On Friday afternoon, Sonia Traynor was boxing up her family’s belongings.
She had already thrown out eight bags of clothes, not because her four children didn’t need them or wear them, but because she can’t take them all with her.
She gave away lamps and a chest of drawers to friends. She was trying to line up friends and relatives who might store the children’s toys, including new bikes they got for Christmas.
They won’t be able to cycle them now anyway. Hopefully, they won’t grow out of them.
But she hadn’t found anyone to look after the family’s dog, a big grey husky, when she moves out of her house in Ballyfermot on Monday.
“I better remember to cancel the Sky,” she says to her partner Luke Coulahan, as he makes a pot of tea. The kitchen around them is full of boxes.
They won’t need broadband anymore, either. From Monday, she thinks that they will be living in a hotel.
In December, the family got a 56-day notice of eviction, including a solicitor’s letter to confirm that her landlord is selling up.
Traynor was homeless for about two years the last time. Now it is happening again.
She feels she was duped into accepting the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme, which offers no more stability than any other private rented tenancy.
“They promised me that this couldn’t happen,” she says.
First Time Around
Around five years ago, Traynor was renting a different house, where she lived with her three older children from a previous relationship. She suffered from severe depression at the time and was on medication, she says.
The house she was living in was substandard. The council assessed it, and asked the landlord to do work on it. He refused, and decided to sell instead, she says.
Her parents, who live in social housing, were willing to take her and the kids in. “They said, ‘We will squeeze you in until you get sorted,'” she recalls.
So she applied to the council for permission for herself and her children to stay in her parents’ house. But the council refused her application. “They said no because it would be classed as overcrowding,” she says.
She then had no choice but to present as homeless at the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive offices in Parkgate Hall, she says. They placed her in the Travelodge hotel in Ballymun.
“I was terrified to even walk out of the hotel,” she says. “It was a real lonely feeling being on my own with the three kids. I was going through a mental breakdown. I was suicidal at the time.”
One day, Traynor got a call from the council to say that the family were being transferred to a Bewley’s hotel. At first she was delighted, thinking they meant a Bewley’s close to her parents and to the children’s school.
But it was the Bewley’s by Dublin Airport. “I cried for a full day straight,” she says.
Her oldest daughter was in school in Ballyfermot at the time. “I was getting the airport bus to Dublin Airport, the 747 from Dublin Airport to Heuston, and then get the 79 up here to Ballyfermot,” she says.
There were no shops near the hotel, and no cooking facilities for her, and she doesn’t drive. “I couldn’t afford to order food every day. I’d be buying bread and ham for sandwiches,” she says. But even that would go off quickly, as she didn’t have a fridge.
They stayed in that hotel for about six months, as she recalls.
Into the Rental Sector
The family were homeless for around 20 months all together, says Traynor. She found out she was pregnant with her youngest while living in a hotel.
Mia, now aged two, is a quiet little girl with red hair. She is playing on the kitchen floor with a mini skateboard, dressed in shiny silver leggings and a white hoody.
The family finally got transferred to Bewley’s in Clondalkin, which was a big improvement as it was closer to the children’s school.
She was assigned a “keyworker”, someone from Focus Ireland, based at Parkgate Hall. “She was ever so nice, she was lovely,” says Traynor.
That support worker helped her with things like filling out forms, and asked her to consider a new scheme called HAP.
“She explained it to me that it was like private rented, but the council pays your rent,” she says.
Traynor says she was adamant that she wanted a permanent home for her children, but that the woman kept asking her to accept the HAP scheme.
At one point, Traynor says, her support worker told her the council might call social services, as she was refusing a roof over her children’s heads.
“I kind of panicked a bit. I mean it’s the last thing you want to hear, social services,” she says. It was only then that she agreed to take the HAP scheme, she says.
She says her support worker told her that if the landlord were to sell, the council would be responsible for her and have to house her straight away.
A spokesperson for Focus Ireland said it’s dreadful Traynor is being evicted and becoming homeless again, and “regrettable that she feels that she did not get reliable advice from our case worker”.
Her case worker has left, but Focus Ireland reviewed Traynor’s file and there’s no evidence of any comments about a referral to social services or the council’s obligations under HAP, he said.
“Focus Ireland advised Sonia that although she had reservations about the HAP property, at the time Sonia needed to be realistic about time frames related to local authority property,” he said.
All case managers are qualified social-care workers who have clear guidelines and ongoing training, so Focus Ireland does not think it likely that this one would have applied that kind of pressure to a family to accept the HAP scheme.
The Focus Ireland case worker would have been aware that the local authority does not prioritise tenants on HAP who have been evicted – as it would, for instance, have been obliged to do with tenants on the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS), which preceded HAP.
“We would be extremely surprised if a Focus Ireland case worker had given such misleading advice in relation to what would happen if the HAP tenancy breaks down,” said the spokesperson.
DRHE said that homeless mothers are never told they could be referred to social services for refusing to accept a housing scheme. They also said that homeless parents were never told, that if the HAP tenancy was ended by the landlord, they would be re-accommodated by the council.
Approximately 10 percent of Homeless HAP tenancies in the Dublin Region have ended, for a variety of reasons, according to the DHRE spokesperson.
Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan says he came into contact with Traynor and Coulahan through his clinics in Ballyfermot. He’s also supporting another family who have become homeless after being on Homeless HAP, he says.
“Without HAP, in all fairness, there would be far more people on the street,” says Doolan. But the HAP scheme depends on the private rental market.
“The private rental market has not changed, there is no more security for tenants, so it was inevitable that they would start haemorrhaging back into homelessness,” he says.
Back in Hotels
Traynor says she believed that if anything went wrong with her current rental accommodation, the council was obliged to re-house her.
When she was told she would have to go back into hotels again, she was distraught. “My heart sank, the blood nearly drained out of my body,” she says.
Last Friday, Traynor said she had expected to be placed in a hotel by the council on Monday. But Dublin Regional Homeless Executive told her it didn’t have any emergency accommodation to offer her, and that she would have to call around hotels herself, she says.
She spent the afternoon doing that, but couldn’t find anywhere that would take her, she says. Some hotels said they couldn’t accommodate a family so large, and others said they don’t take council payments, she said.
On Monday night, she stayed at her sister’s. On Tuesday, still unable to find a hotel to take for her family, she dug out the keys to her old rental property and went back.
She doesn’t know what she will do if she is evicted, she says. She doesn’t know what to do next. “I can’t put my kids on the street,” she says.
Are you in Dublin and facing eviction because your landlord says they are selling up? Please help us with out reporting, by filling out the form through this link. We’re gathering cases to follow up on.