Wicklow family of four fear eviction will mean sleeping ‘in a car or on a couch’

Teresa, Kieran (14), Padraig (5) and Paddy McKitterick.

Myles BuchananWicklow People

A mother of two living in west Wicklow, who is facing eviction in June, has said she fears she and her family will soon be sleeping in a car, or on a family member’s couch.

Teresa and Paddy McKitterick and their two sons Padraig (5) and Kieran (13) have lived in the same home in Stratford on Slaney for 11 years, but have been served with a notice to quit and will now have to vacate their current home in June.

They were told last year that they would have to leave in June this year and since receiving that daunting message have been frantically searching for somewhere to rent that they can afford and that allows them to continue to live in the area.

The search has so far proved fruitless and the family has already to begun to prepare for homelessness by seeking storage for belongings. The experience has caused untold stress, so much so that Teresa was hospitalised just after Christmas.

“I got a bad dose of shingles last April and then I started to feel chest pains and I ended up in hospital for a week just after Christmas,” she explained. “I have no doubt its cause was in no small part due to the stress of our situation.

“At 50 years of age never did I think we would be in this situation and I certainly was not prepared for the feelings it would bring, packing up boxes and not knowing where we will be going.

“It’s simply wrong for anyone to not know where they will sleep, or if their families will be separated just so they can sleep on someone’s sofa, yet that is exactly what we are facing. This country is a wonderful country but the government is failing so many of us and failing us badly.”

Teresa and her family have grown to be part of the community and both children go to local schools. Their search for accommodation has been far reaching, but the very few places that have become available have been either too expensive or too far away.

A search on popular housing website Daft.ie on Tuesday morning showed only 21 properties available to rent in County Wicklow, with the majority of these homes being in the east of the county.

Narrowing the search to only two-bedroomed homes leaves just 14 that are in Wicklow and just outside the Kildare and Carlow borders. But again, only three listings are in the west, and a searching for three-bedroom homes brings up just three in County Wicklow.

Constant searches like this have become part of Teresa’s daily life, with the lack of supply and expense of those available constantly causing anxiety.

“This has been hanging over our heads for so long now,” said Teresa.  “Like a lot of families we struggle but we have never needed to ask for help before because we always knew there were others who were worse off, but now we need help.

“We have been hunting for suitable properties on every available website but there is nothing. Even the very limited properties available aren’t suitable. You have one-bedroom apartments which are going for higher rent that the home we are currently renting.”

She added: “Paddy got onto one estate agent after hearing a property was due to go up for rent later that evening. He was told there would literally be hundreds of offers for that single property. It’s just becoming so stressful.”

Teresa says the uncertainty has led to a deterioration in her own physical and mental health, while she also worries about the impact the situation could have on her two sons.

“We have lived in Stratford on Slaney for over eleven years now and feel very much part of the local community. We are settled here and both Padraig and Kieran attend school here.

“At this stage we know are are facing homelessness and have had to start looking at storage lockers to rent so at least we have somewhere to store all our belongings.

“Our older son knows what is happening and we are trying to act like it is a big adventure with Padraig, but recently he started dividing his toys up to see which ones he would keep and which he wouldn’t be able to , which was heartbreaking.

“This is not a worry any child should have on their shoulders. No family should have to go through what we are going through. No child should have to leave behind the home they’ve known all their lives to sleep in a car or on a couch. Kieran is doing well but I know he is worried.”

As well as exploring other homes to rent, the family has written to Wicklows TD and has also sought help from Wicklow County Council, and a change in the threshold for eligibility for social housing has made that an option.

However, Teresa knows that even though they are on the housing list, they are at the bottom of that list and “who knows how long we will be waiting”.

They have made west Wicklow their home, but their families live in Dublin. They cannot turn to them to help them stay in the area, but may have to separate to seek shelter from them in the near future.

“We have lived in County Wicklow for the past 15 years but are from Dublin originally so we have no immediate family in the area.,” said Teresa.

“We went bowling together as a family on Sunday to celebrate Mother’s Day and it was the first time we were all laughing away in so long.”