'I just stayed awake and watched the kids. My heart was broken' - mother of children forced to sleep in garda station
The family at the centre of the homeless controversy spoke openly this afternoon about their distressing experience sleeping in a garda station last night.
Margaret Cash, and her children Johnny (11), Tommy (10), Miley (7), Jim (4), Rocky (2), Andy (1) made headlines when the Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH) charity posted photographs of the children sleeping on chairs in a waiting area with no bedding or blankets.
Yesterday they said they went to the homeless section of South Dublin County Council to try again to secure accommodation, but to no avail.
At lunchtime they said they then made their way to the offices of the ICHH on Amiens Street in the city centre where coordinated efforts were made to find them accommodation until Monday.
Speaking to members of the media, Ms Cash described how she spent the entire night in tears.
“I’ve no words to even describe it. I didn’t even sleep, I just stayed awake and watched the kids. My heart was broken.
“They were sleeping on hard chairs before blankets were brought for them. Until you’re in a situation like that you’d never know what it's like.
“It was so horrible seeing your children having to go through that – it’s overwhelming.”
The mother from Tallaght was advised to go to her local garda station after she claimed Focus Ireland could not secure suitable accommodation for her family.
“You ring the council every morning and they give you a list of hotels to ring, but you can’t get anywhere with them.
“They all tell you they’re full or don’t have anywhere big enough for your family. I’ve been homeless for a year now.
“Most nights [Focus Ireland] get you into a hostel, but you’d be back out the door at 9am the next morning, walking the streets with six kids until 8.30 or 9pm.
“Last night they couldn’t find anywhere [suitable] and made us go to the local police station.”
Ms Cash claims the Irish homeless charity offered her family accommodation in Co Meath, but said it would have been impossible to get to it so late at night.
Focus Ireland Advocacy Manager Roughan Mac Namara said that the fact that some families had nowhere to sleep last night except in a gardai station is "totally unacceptable".
“Focus Ireland is working hard every day with Dublin Regional Homeless Executive to support families and help them when they become homeless," he said.
"While last night was exceptional it was part of an escalating crisis for families that Focus Ireland has been warning the Government about for over two years."
The mother of six is currently on South Dublin County Council’s housing waiting list, but is frustrated how long the process is taking.
“The council has an obligation to house you, but they’re just not doing it. I have done everything I can to get my kids somewhere to live. It’s not my fault that the government is letting me and my kids down."
The six children are understood to have slept on chairs in the Garda station in Dublin.
The CEO of Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH) said that last night was "one of the worst" for homeless families in recent memory.
"Yesterday was one of the worst days we had for homelessness services in five years," Anthony Flynn told Independent.ie.
"Last month we had 48 families referred to Garda stations because of the influx presenting themselves homeless. The month before it was 47 and that number is expected to be a lot higher this month."
According to Mr Flynn, up to eight different families were referred to Garda stations across Dublin last night.
"Unfortunately, by the time we knew the family were in Tallaght station, we hadn’t got any accommodation available and two families previous to that had been refused," Mr Flynn said.
"It’s shocking and it’s wrong. The question has to be answered, who put them there? Having to be accommodated in a Garda station is unacceptable. It’s no life for a child."
A spokesperson for the Department of Housing said they "were aware" of the situation.
Meanwhile the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE), said an "unprecedented" number of families contacted the council seeking accommodation late last night.
The executive’s director Eileen Gleeson told RTE’s News at One that 10 families sought emergency accommodation on Wednesday night. Of those, five were placed in emergency accommodation, two returned to their original region, outside Dublin, one refused the offer of emergency accommodation and two did not seek further assistance.
“I’m assuming they were one of the families that did not seek further assistance. If they had stayed in touch we could have helped.”
Ms Gleeson said the executive is working hard to facilitate every request for emergency accommodation.
“We have contingency plans, we have contingency beds for crisis situations. If people refuse it, that’s their choice, but there’s no good reason to refuse it,” she said.