'My homeless daughter had to sleep on chairs pulled together in a garda station'
Shocking pictures expose the homeless crisis, as one mother tells Laura Lynott how she cannot find shelter and runs up debt to keep her children in school while they cry themselves to sleep at night
These upsetting photos show a 10-year-old girl sleeping on chairs pulled together in a Dublin garda station after her family was made homeless when their landlord's house was repossessed.
Amy O'Reilly (27) took daughter Kya to Ballyfermot Garda Station on Thursday night to find a place to bed down because, she says: "There was just nowhere else to go."
Amy, who was made homeless with her family three months ago, said her sons Skyler (7) and Cruz (5) were able to stay with their father.
"I slept in Ballyfermot Garda Station because I couldn't find any emergency accommodation," she said.
"Focus Ireland said there was nowhere available and the best place to stay was in a garda station."
The mother-of-three, who recently had to drop out of college, says her children are now often late for school or absent due to their homelessness.
However, bedding down in a garda station was a new low, she said.
"I was trying to stay in friends' houses but they can't help me all the time. I outstay my welcome," said Amy.
"My daughter had to sleep on chairs pulled together in the garda station.
"The guard gave me blankets from the cell. A woman who was passing by went and got me a child's duvet for my daughter.
"The woman garda was very nice and caring, and she gave my daughter crisps and water, but we shouldn't be living like this. I'm getting depressed."
The family were made homeless after a High Court ruling in December, when Mr Justice Paul Gilligan said Amy was not entitled to remain in the property on Cedar Brook Avenue, Cherry Orchard, Dublin.
Amy appeared before the court to say she did not understand what was happening as she had been paying rent.
The house was subject to proceedings between its owner and a previously Bank of Ireland-appointed receiver.
The judge issued a stay order until February to allow Amy to find a home, but she has been unable to do so.
"We've been staying in hostels, hotels, friends' houses and even recently in a friend's car," Amy said.
"My kids cry themselves to sleep and I run up debts trying to get them to school in taxis or on buses.
"I was studying to become a psychotherapist because I want to help people in bad circumstances, but I had to drop out and the only reason I am carrying on is for the kids.
"But I feel we're being treated like animals."
She asked the Herald to print these pictures to show the dire situation she finds herself in, which is also faced by other homeless families.
Focus Ireland confirmed it had directed Amy to a garda station "as it was not possible to find emergency accommodation for her and her family".
"It is important to note that the legal responsibility for responding to homelessness and providing emergency accommodation lies with the local authority," director of advocacy Mike Allen said.
"The role of Focus Ireland is to work with the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive every night to try to ensure that every family which is homeless is provided with shelter.
"it is not always possible to find emergency accommodation for every family. Circumstances like this are becoming increasingly frequent.
"We have raised our severe concerns about the situation with Tusla, the Minister for Housing, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and An Taoiseach, and are waiting for a response to what we consider to be an unacceptable situation."
A garda spokesman said: "An Garda Siochana has a strong working relationship with the management of Inner City Helping Homeless and other authorities and continues to work closely with the organisation.
"Because of the nature of their work, gardai deal with many on the margins of society, and together with other state agencies and NGOs, we work to ensure positive outcomes for many vulnerable people. Our primary role is always the protection of life."
On one night alone last May, up to a dozen homeless families in Dublin were directed to garda stations as there was no emergency accommodation for them.
Then Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald told the Dail it was "unacceptable" that homeless families stayed in garda stations.
Karen Kiernan, the chief executive of One family, which represents single-parent families, said: "The vast majority of homeless families are one- parent families, women on their own with children."
Ms Kiernan said it was "disgraceful" that some families have been sleeping in garda stations due to the sheer scale of the homelessness crisis.
"The big issue is the Government won't build public housing immediately," she said.
The Dublin Regional Homeless Executive said: "in gen- eral terms a family, unless there are other extenuating circumstances, would be approved to self-accommodate in a hotel that we will pay for, or alter- natively they would be approved for the Housing Assistance Payment and can source their own private rented accommodation.
"It is important that people who find themselves in these difficult circumstances get in touch with homeless services immediately so that we can work with them."