Sunday 8 December 2019

Erica Fleming: 'I just want to provide a home for my child'

Erica Fleming gives an insight into homelessness after being forced to live in a hotel with her young daughter

NOWHERE TO CALL HOME: Erica Fleming feels the State is letting the children of this country down. Photo: Mark Condren.
NOWHERE TO CALL HOME: Erica Fleming feels the State is letting the children of this country down. Photo: Mark Condren.

Erica Fleming

My name is Erica Fleming, I am 30 years old. I am the mother of Emily; she is nine years old. We have been homeless for 201 days.

We first became homeless in June due to unforeseen circumstances. I never thought I would be in this situation, I didn't think it could happen so easily. I felt hopeless, I had no options. Yes, I had people offering to let us stay for a couple of nights here and there but that wasn't the solution to our housing need.

My only option was to approach the Dublin City Council homeless department and ask for help. They allowed us to "self accommodate" and I found a hotel for us to stay in.

At first I felt thankful to have somewhere to stay but as time went on, I felt exhausted from the daily battles that occur. The embarrassment of leaving the hotel every morning with my child in her school uniform is how our day starts - everyone looks and knows we're homeless.

Then I go to work and plaster a fake smile on my face so no one thinks anything is wrong. Having no access to a cooker, we survive on takeaway food. We share a bed. This wasn't a problem at the beginning - I was happy to snuggle into my princess every night, but again, as time has gone by, this has become an issue. Now she won't go to sleep until I get in beside her.

I never get time alone. If I need space or to quietly cry, I sit in the bathroom and pretend to be using the toilet. I don't want her to worry so I pretend life is wonderful and this won't be our lives for much longer.

I work for a local business part-time, 29 hours a week. I have worked there for five years. Because I work 29 hours a week I am not entitled to much help with rent allowance so renting isn't a viable option for us. I really want stability for my daughter, I would like Emily to get settled, make friends and know exactly where she is going to live until she goes off to college. I just want to be able to provide a long-term home for my child. And I continue to fight for a council house.

I decided to write to the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, to see if he could help to resolve this housing crisis by asking the Government to declare it as an emergency. In my letter, I said:

"In 1916 Padraig Pearse stood on the steps of the GPO and declared Ireland a free nation. He read the proclamation and these words should haunt the State today:

'The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all its parts, CHERISHING ALL OF THE CHILDREN OF THE NATION EQUALLY and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.'

"One hundred years later I believe the proclamation is being ignored and the State is letting the children of this country down. There are over 1,500 children living in emergency accommodation."

I got a reply from the President. Spoiler alert, we are still homeless, with no sign of our situation changing for the better. So the fight goes on. Three months ago, I agreed to feature in a documentary called My Homeless Family for RTÉ One. I, along with two other families, were given cameras and asked to document the effect living in temporary accommodation has on a family.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all the staff in the hotel that I'm currently in - no words can express how grateful I am for all the support and kindness they have given to me and my daughter.

My Homeless Family, Monday, RTÉ One, 9.35pm.

Sunday Independent

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