Tuesday 20 March 2018

'It worries my mum, so it worries me' – Declan (9) scared of becoming homeless and not having school to go to next week

Declan (9) with his older brother Brendan (12)
Declan (9) with his older brother Brendan (12)
Catherine Devine

Catherine Devine

A nine-year-old boy has spoken out about facing homelessness and how he doesn’t know what school he will join in September.

Tracy McGinnis and her sons Declan (9) and Brendan (12) are facing homelessness as the young family can’t find a suitable home to rent in Co Kilkenny.

Brendan has severe brain damage caused by a virus called cytomegalovirus and needs an accessible home with enough room for his medical equipment.

As a result of the virus, Brendan can’t walk, talk, has uncontrolled epilepsy, lung disease, osteoporosis and cerebral palsy amongst others. He’s on six doses of anti-seizure medication a day and is on a hospice-level care.

Declan (9) says he worries about homelessness
Declan (9) says he worries about homelessness

The young family were left facing homelessness nine months ago after a relationship breakdown.

They moved from Co Kilkenny to Co Kildare where they are currently renting a home from a faceless landlord who lives in the UK and the house needs a lot of work done to it.

Brendan Bjorn faces homelessness as mum Tracy can't find suitable accommodation for him under the HAP scheme
Brendan Bjorn faces homelessness as mum Tracy can't find suitable accommodation for him under the HAP scheme

Tracy was granted the HAP (Housing Assistance Payment) under Kildare County Council, but wants to move her young family back to Co Kilkenny where the boys can return to their original schools. Kilkenny is home for the young family and Brendan (12) has a range of medical and educational support there.

She has been removed from the Co Kildare housing list and is now applying to be added to the housing list in Co Kilkenny, but she is facing a long wait.

Tracy McGinnis with son Declan (9)
Tracy McGinnis with son Declan (9)

“School starts next week and Declan isn’t enrolled anywhere. Brendan is ready to go to his special school in Kilkenny that he attends. The current house in Kildare that we’re living in isn’t suitable. There was an environmental health officer from the HSE and he said I’ll be the last person to rent that house until it gets fixed, it was that bad.

“It’s unsafe, unsuitable and for Brendan needs it’s dangerous. We hope to be out of there shortly but we have nowhere else to go.”

Tracy McGinnis with her son Brendan
Tracy McGinnis with her son Brendan

Tracy described how the heater leaks, wires are broken, and that electrical sockets are hanging out of the wall. Upstairs, Tracy claims, isn’t completed and there are holes in the walls were birds get in and fly around.

The current landlord isn’t registered with the RTB (Residential Tenancies Board), Tracy claims.

“I put a complaint into the RTB but I didn’t even get a response or an acknowledgement of my complaint.

“We’ve spent the last nine months in this place and now I’m in the same boat again. I can’t find anywhere else to live and we can’t live here any longer.”

Tracey's son Declan said he feels the pressure of homelessness and is worried to tell his friends at school.

“Sometimes I feel bad. Sometimes they say we get a house and then they don’t give it to us so it’s very stressful,” Declan told Independent.ie.

“I’m looking forward to going back to school to see my friends but I don’t know what school I’ll be going to yet. I’m worried that if we don’t find a house we could be homeless for who knows how long.

“It’s scary. If we don’t have a home, we wouldn’t have shelter or a place to keep food. It could be rotting. I am scared.”

The young Harry Potter fan says he loves reading books, watching movies with his older brother and playing soccer.

“I wish someone would help me and all the other homeless kids.

“I’ve only told two of my friends that we’re trying to find a new house. I don’t talk to them about homelessness because they would get a big shock.

“It would be embarrassing to tell my friends that we could be homeless. I don’t want to mention it because I just don’t feel like it.

“I don’t think they’d believe me because it sounds unbelievable. Nobody would want to be friends with me. That would be hard.”

Declan said it does upset him to think about it.

“I stress out about it. It worries my mum so it worries me.”

Tracy comforted her young son and told him that he shouldn’t be worried.

“It’s my job to look after you. Don’t worry about it,” she said.

But Declan has seen his mum’s devastation as the family failed to get a home after numerous viewings.

Tracy describes the tough house searching process to Independent.ie saying that she “can’t compete” with other families who have two incomes.

She adds that house viewings are extremely difficult as she has to “battle through crowds” with her two young sons.

“I can’t compete with working couples who have great references from employers. They have money coming in and I’m ‘just’ a carer full-time for my son. I can’t compete with those who can offer more money on the site or they don’t have a child with a disability. I need a room unfurnished because Brendan comes with his own bed and medical equipment. It’s like a little hospital. Landlords don’t want that. They just want someone that can move in, pay the rent and get on with it.”

The mum-of-two said she’s exhausted after being told time and time that they have a house, only to have it ripped from under them at the last minute.

“One letting agent said that a house was ours if we didn’t have our therapy dog. I sat down with Declan and we both sobbed for an hour and made the decision that we would give up our dog. I told the letting agent that we would give the dog away because we needed the house and she said that the landlord decided to give the house to someone else. It’s devastating.”

Tracy said that she is getting legal help to investigate whether she is being discriminated against by landlords because of her son’s disability.

“I just wish someone would have some heart and compassion for my family and what we’re going through.

“I need a stable house for my boys. I'm not asking anyone to give me anything for free, I can provide rent. I just need a home for my boys.

“Declan needs a stable home too. It’s not all about Brendan. Declan needs a home where he can grow up. As do the nearly 3,000 children that are homeless in Ireland at the moment and living in hotels.

“Children are taking their first steps in hotel rooms. We’re facing living in a hotel room too but it’s physically not even possible with Brendan’s needs to be in a hotel.

“It’s a real crisis in this country and that’s why we got involved in the MyNameIs campaign. We’re trying to highlight that 1800 children in particular are starting school next week and are homeless. It could be 1802 next week when my two boys are added to that list. We’re that close to being homeless.

“Declan has a sense of homelessness looming over his head and it’s causing him to act out. It’s scary for him. These children are one day going to be running our country and they have adverse emotional effects from the stress of being homeless, it’s a long term effect on us all in society.”

Tracy hopes that Declan will be able to attend the local school in Co Kildare for a few weeks until the family get a more permanent home in Co Kilkenny.

“Everything is up in the air.”

Tracy, who has a masters degree in family counselling, explained that she has never gone through so much stress in her life.

“I have anxiety, panic attacks, I’m breaking out in hives. I genuinely have no idea what we’re going to do and I’m very concerned for my two boys.

“I don’t know what has happened to people’s compassion, integrity and sense of community. I know it’s the Government’s job to help families facing homelessness but they’re not doing it. We need a sense of community more than ever and people need to help one another.

“I hate asking for help and plastering my boy’s life all over social media but I need help.”

Tracy said that the only help she received from the Government was that she was given the HAP scheme.

“They said here’s HAP, go for it. Nobody helps you find or secure a place. I have references from two TDs and I do really appreciate that.”

She contacted Minister for Disability, Finian McGrath’s office and was speaking to one of his assistants about her plight.

“He was very attentive and he listened. He’s going to intervene on our behalf with Kilkenny Council and expedite not only my application to get on the housing list, but to get a house or something short-term.

“We really need some help. We’d be so grateful for any help.”

While facing Ireland’s homeless crisis, Tracy also has her hands full with the current health crisis.

“Brendan needs a full-time carer and I have very little help. The Laura-Lynn foundation are excellent they give me 15 nights a year for Brendan to stay in their care but it can be very tough and lonely caring for him day and night for the other 350 days and nights a year. It’s very tough and my hands are certainly full. Hopefully we’ll find a house soon and that will be one less thing on my mind.”

In a statement to Independent.ie, a spokesperson for Finian McGrath's office said they are doing everything they can to help Tracy and her family.

"We are working with the HSE and the Kilkenny Co Council to see where Tracy stands at the moment. We are doing everything we can to help her get a home for her boys."

Kilkenny Co Council (KKC) confirmed to Independent.ie that while Ms Mc Ginnis didn't meet the criteria previously for housing support, she has since re-submitted an application to KKC to re-apply for housing supports and her application is currently being processed.

The Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) said in a statement:

"The RTB cannot comment on a specific case. However, the RTB has a robust procedure in place for following up on referrals from whatever source we receive them from as non-compliance with the registration obligation is an offence the RTB has to be very careful of how it treats such information and what, if any, responses we can give to parties who have made referrals.

"This is necessary to ensure we do not prejudice any case we may bring in respect of a referral. In this instance we do not have a case pending, this may be that the tenancy was subsequently registered or the landlord’s details despite our investigations could not be located to serve Court papers on. These types of situations are rare and the vast majority of referrals are followed up."

If you would like to help the McGinnis family with medical and housing costs you can donate here

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