Monday 16 September 2019

'Imposing the shame of homelessness on older children is cruel'

Advocate: Sr Stanislaus Kennedy, at The Sanctuary, on Stanhope Street, Dublin. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Advocate: Sr Stanislaus Kennedy, at The Sanctuary, on Stanhope Street, Dublin. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

The founder of Focus Ireland says older children who are homeless feel shame and embarrassment about their situation.

Sr Stanislaus Kennedy, an advocate for the homeless for more than 30 years, said she initially believed that younger children were affected more.

But the Kerry-born Sister of Charity now realises it is older children who feel it more.

"I suppose it's clearer to me now that the older children find it really embarrassing as well as really difficult," she says.

"They go to school and they can't invite their friends back. Some of them don't want to tell their friends where they are because they're so ashamed of it. Imposing that sort of shame on children is wrong, and it's cruel as well, and we've no right to do it," she says fiercely.

Asked if these children should be getting counselling, she says: "Of course they should be and they will need it later.

"What is the effect of it, we don't know fully. We can't tell because we haven't seen it before."

The crisis is now well beyond her powers of description, she says, with a new family becoming homeless every eight hours.

"I've no language anymore to describe it. It's beyond description is all I can say," she says.

About six weeks ago, the Focus Ireland coffee shop on Eustace Street in Dublin city took the step of extending its opening hours until nine o'clock, so that families can have somewhere to be and somewhere for their children to play, as they face the stressful scramble of finding a hotel room for the night. Often they will have 50 people at a time in the centre.

She talks of the 'totally unnatural' existence these families are enduring, after spending perhaps four years in a hotel room or a bed and breakfast, with children forced to traverse the city on multiple buses to get to school.

One young mother had recently told her that she felt as though she was rearing her children 'in an institution' and was not able to be a mother to them - fearing that she will have lost all her skills of mothering from this life.

"The most central thing is that it doesn't provide security and for any child that's central," Sr Stan says.

"That's how we grow and develop, through the security and love that we get at home in childhood, to learn in a normal way and to play in a normal way.

"It's deskilling parents as well as causing damage to children, damage that will really affect them for the rest of their lives and that's the appalling thing about it - it is the kind of damage that goes on," she says.

"I mean it's unconscionable and unbelievable that we allow families to live like that today - and not only do we allow them, we make them," she says.

Sr Stan believes that as a society we are now far too busy and are merely living our lives on the surface.

She has written a new book, 'Awakening Inner Peace: A Little Book of Hours', which she hopes will help people to find a moment of spiritual comfort in their day, at a time when they need it.

"This is an effort to help people to stop and enter into that peace that is within them and to allow that to bring more peace and calm into our day," she said.

It is something she needs herself, she adds.

Asked if she has confidence in the current Government to handle the urgency of the housing crisis, she shakes her head slowly.

"No, I don't think so," she says, adding: "I can't say it strongly enough. More is needed now.

"We need housing and we need it now."

She believes it is 'massaging the figures' - or at least attempting to - but advocates such as Focus are too aware of the real situation on the ground for it to be successful, she adds firmly.

"There has to be a real commitment to social and affordable housing, and it has to be provided by the State.

"It can't be market driven because the market has no conscience and we can't expect the market to have a conscience."

Irish Independent

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