Monday 20 October 2014

'Mother in car' stands by sad story of destitution

Published 27/04/2014 | 02:30

Sabrina McMahon with her children Chelsea, 18 months, Karl, 5 and Michaela, 3. Photo: Tony Gavin
Sabrina McMahon with her children Chelsea, 18 months, Karl, 5 and Michaela, 3. Photo: Tony Gavin

SHE grabbed headlines as a desperate mother, forced to live in her car for a week with her three children after she ran out of temporary homes.

But with newspaper reports threatening to undermine her tale of woe yesterday, Sabrina McMahon, 36, insisted that her story of poverty and homelessness was true.

Ms McMahon spoke tearfully from her hotel room in Tallaght, where she will stay for a month with her three children, thanks to the generosity of an anonymous 'Good Samaritan' who was moved by her story.

She had left Kildare over a year ago after her relationship broke down. Ms McMahon moved back to her native Tallaght with her children and stayed with her mother, father, sister and various friends until eventually she was forced to spend a week living in her car with her three children.

The story was so moving that a man offered to pay for her to stay in a hotel until she can sort out more permanent living arrangements for herself and her three children.

Yesterday, however, a tabloid newspaper offered a rather different account.

The home she left in Athy wasn't a council house, it said; she had a mortgage on it but defaulted. She didn't stay with her mother in Tallaght because they didn't get along.

And was the house that she abandoned in Athy, because it had been taken over by junkies, really uninhabitable?

Ms McMahon said that although she had a mortgage with Permanent TSB, she never actually owned her own home in Athy because she had never signed the deeds.

It was true that she didn't always get along with her mother, but she added: "of course she gets on with the grandchildren."

And Ms McMahon insisted that her house in Athy had been taken over by junkies when she took her children to spend Christmas with her father in Tallaght in 2012.

She returned to find her house broken into. The gardai advised her not to stay there because bottles were left beside the bed.

"They had been using it as a drugs den, as far as I could make out," she said. She found a "video box" filled with syringes and heroin under the bed, and brought it to the garda station.

She said she hadn't heard from the gardai since.

She stopped paying the mortgage and moved back to Tallaght with her children, Michaela, 3, Chelsea, 18 months, and Karl, 5.

After a year of moving around, she resorted to living in the car. Hospitality dried up.

"Anybody will be billed for having an extra person in the house," she said, referring to welfare payments.

She is on a housing list. And South Dublin County Council has referred her back to the homeless unit in Kildare because "I wasn't wanted in Dublin." But she doesn't want to go back there.

South Dublin County Council said Ms McMahon had presented to their homeless unit several times this year. The council organised rent allowance for her. She was advised to present to Kildare County Council for emergency accommodation but she missed an appointment. The council also accepted her on to a housing list.

She is entitled to rent allowance to help pay for private rental accommodation and receives welfare of €270 a week. But she says she can't find a landlord who will accept rent allowance, which is why she resorted to living in a car.

For now, she and her children are enjoying a roof over their heads, thanks to the publicity her plight has generated.

"The Good Samaritan is keeping in touch with me," she said. "I told him I was very upset because of all the lies in the paper."

Sunday Independent

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