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Monday 22 September 2014

Family sleep in car after being forced from home

Brendan Grehan

Published 25/04/2014 | 02:30

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Sabrina McMahon with children Karl, Chelsea and Michaela.
Sabrina McMahon with children Karl, Chelsea and Michaela.

A young family have been reduced to sleeping in their car as they are unable to get emergency accommodation.

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Sabrina McMahon and her three children moved from Athy two years ago to be closer to her extended family after her council house was broken into.

The mother of three fought back her tears as she spoke about the pressure of being homeless.

“I really can't take anymore. All the children want is a back garden where they can play. I'm in a friends house getting the children's bottles ready for tonight.”

Sabrina has a five year old boy, Karl and two girls, Chelsea (3) and Michaela (2).

Originally from Tallaght, she had been living in a council house in Athy for nine years “but junkies broke in and destroyed it. I didn't feel safe there. I decided to go back to Tallaght with the kids”.

For the past two years, since her partner left, Sabrina and her children have been staying with her mother in Cushlawn Park and in friends’ homes, moving from house to house.

Things recently reached breaking point when the entire family were forced to sleep in her car. “I have our suitcases in the car. We have been moving from house to house. Nobody could put us up anymore.”

The distraught mother says she cannot get any landlord to accept rent allowance and when she went to South Dublin County Council’s homeless unit she was given more bad news.

“They told me I am a month out of qualifying for accommodation in the county and I can't get emergency accommodation for another month.” In the meantime, she says her children are suffering. “They don't know if they are coming or going.”

Today, children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald has described the situation where a mother and her three children have resorted to living in a car as "deeply disturbing".

Minister Fitzgerald was speaking at the tenth anniversary symposium of the Children's Ombudsman in Farmleigh House earlier this morning.

She said she was "horrified" to learn of Sabrina McMahon, and her three children living in a car in Tallaght, Dublin.

"My reaction is the same as everyone who has read that story this morning. Horrified.  The idea that a mother and three children would be living in a car in this day and age is deeply disturbing," she said.

"And I of course would want to ensure that the local authorities respond to her and find proper accommodation. 

"I don't know the precise details that led to that situation in regards to her previous housing, but clearly we want a situation that's responsive to children, mothers and fathers who find themselves in that situation. 

"Well clearly I want the local authorities to speak to her, to find an alternative."

Barnados CEO Fergus Finlay said he was "horrified" to learn of Ms McMahon's situation, but that he doesn't "think it is surprising".

"We work with children everyday of the week who come to us from bedsits, from temporary accommodation arranged by local authorities."

He said the suggestion that she would be waiting several years before being offered a home "is crazy", but that this unfortunately is not an isolated incident.

"She is only one of thousands," he said, but added that this was the most "extreme" situation he has ever come across.

"I know hundreds of children who live in temporary bedsits, that are paid for by local authorities.  Not suitable at all, nowhere to go during the day, they live in bed and breakfasts in some cases.  They have to wander the streets because there is nowhere else for them to go," he added.

"There are hundreds and hundreds of families in that situation in Ireland."

A spokesperson for South Dublin County Council said it “is fully aware of Ms McMahon’s case and Ms McMahon is equally aware of all efforts made by the Council to assist her.

“South Dublin Council does not wish to make any further comment at this stage.”

Councillor Maire Devine says that Sabrina's plight is symptomatic of a much wider problem. “This is not an isolated incident. It is becoming far more common. It is not just people on social welfare.

“There is talk about an upturn in the economy. If there is an upturn in the economy I would like to see it.

Meanwhile the Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore has said that the supply of houses is key to solving a housing problem in the country’s urban areas.

“The supply of homes has to be increased , I think there is a particular problem in the larger urban areas.

“In Dublin in particular the supply of residential accommodation is low and it needs to be increased.”

He was speaking in Dublin at the launch of MEP Emer Costello’s re-election campaign.

“The supply of dwellings is ultimately the key to it.

“There are a number of short term measures that can be taken, one of which was taken last week by Jan O’Sullivan which is get the boarded up dwellings re-done up by local authorities”, he said.

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