Speech at the Young Knocknaheeny ‘Born and Raised into Homelessness Child Homeless Report Launch’, 18th October 2019

  • Post author:
  • Post category:Media

Firstly, I am so delighted and so honoured to be giving the keynote here this morning and to be associated with the fine, ground-breaking, collaborative work that Young Knocknaheeny to promote infant mental health in that community. Since I have become aware of Young Knocknaheeny I have been an admirer of the work you do, above all the impact of on the lives of the littlest people among us, their mothers and families. Ably led by Katherine and her amazing team, I love too the way you go about your work, winning round, drawing in, mobilising people to gather around our youngest people and its reminiscent of the work I did on area based Sure Start in 2000s UK, where my job as adviser to Minister Margaret Hodge was to get the money she valiantly fought for in budget after budget, spent. Happy days, though now, since 2010 sadly now, disgraceful now vandalised, cut to ribbons and dismantled by a cruel and heartless Government.

So yes, I am very glad to be here. And first and foremost, Born and Raised into Homelessness is an excellent report and all credit to Dr Shirley and Dr Cathal, UCC and the Department of Applied Social Studies for producing such timely, such useful though it would have to be said distressing research.

I think in many ways, especially in the world where I work now, you become inured to reports, desensitised and almost punch-drunk from the statistics. That happens even when we care passionately and truly about something like homelessness, about Travellers rights and life chances, about the situation for people with dementia and disabilities their lack of support.

Most of us in this room know by now that there are 72, 000 families on local authority waiting lists, 10,338 people plus living in emergency accommodation, 3, 848 of those are children. There may be more as I’m not sure that the children in this study or their families would be counted as such. We know from the FEANTSA definition that they most certainly are. And in spite of Rebuilding Ireland, the homeless crisis is not getting better. The number of homeless families increased by 178% since June 2015.

But to quote Josef Stalin, and its something I don’t do too often, 1m deaths is a statistic….one death is a tragedy

And that was the sense the feeling when we read with horror of the brutal death by murder of a man in Cork in the early hours of Saturday morning. Both Cathal and I had been at a retirement do in the Cricket Club earlier. So, when my husband and I were passing by the little encampment of tents on Saturday night, we saw blue lights, fire brigades and a person lifted into an ambulance. Sean and I wondered what happened. You could tell it was something very serious. So, I was upset to read, though not surprised by the account from Barry Roche in the Irish Times of such a brutal, tragic loss of a man, close enough my age had been murdered, He too like me from the county of Cork – born and rearered on the Sheeps Head.  He like me who had spent some years in England. It was sadder, and the tragedy came home even more when we saw a picture of the man, that man we now know to be Timmy Hourihane, taken not long before he died. A talented, charming man. A man battling with the complexities of life. A man, one of that 10,000, though not in emergency accommodation sleeping rough. A man that night without a roof, without a home. And may Timmy rest in peace.

In the same way that Timmy Hourihane has become a human face of our housing crisis, the report Young Knocknaheeny is bringing to us to day is connecting us all to the real lives of the children they meet every day and describing the impact of homelessness, of overcrowded, substandard, unaffordable, insecure homes in which young lives begin and young brains, young minds, young bodies develop. The young brains, young minds, young bodies that Young Knocknaheeny so imaginatively, so creatively, so sensitively, so expertly seeks to nurture and nourish though and with mothers and families, engaging with family support, schools, the whole community.

The accounts of children and families in housing crisis, in trauma, captured in this report are stark, upsetting, shaming, And so they should be

In the first account on page 14 some words, phrases stand out

A couple rearing three children, all under eight, two children with additional needs

HAP not accepted…so prey to high interest loans to pay the rent and keep the roof over your little ones. Trying to make ends meet on a zero hours contract. The working poor

Place lost on local authority list because you moved. Not because of your housing need. Dickensian. Reminiscent of the Poor Law Parish system

Then a notice to quit. Then a hotel in the county not the city where the children were at school, and all the disputions that brings. The family of 5 sharing one room. Children going to school from a hotel, and all the life lon stigma and shame that bring.

Little wonder that the parent in eomployment had to stop working due to a deterioration in their mental health.

Little wonder that children in such precariousness expressed distressed. A child younger than 8 expressed suidical thoughts, grappling with bullying at school in top of everything else.

Another family of three children, this time all under 7 years old. This time a family of four sharing an attic room, with damp and mould. One of the children only a year and a half and lots of others sharing that house too, with all the tension and pressure that overcrowding brings.

Little wonder that the 5 year old living in such circumstance had significant reporatory difficulties

This little family was on the local authority waiting list for 7 years. This little family couldn’t find a place to rent that accepted HAP

Inspite of all this stress, this family and the the other family were still striving to do the best for their kids. The family in the first account, commuting so as not to distupt the schooling of their children.

The family living in the attic welcoming the Young Knocknaheeny home visiting programme, doing the Lets Talk with Your Baby and the Incredible Years Programme

Another account, this time a family of seven, with six children from infancy to a teenager.

Damp patches in the bedroom, Cloths and fabric used to seal gaps in the windows. No heating system in this home. Only an open fire and electric  heaters to keep warm. No chance of rehousing either for 5 years.

Dumping of rubbish in the back garden. Rats. No place for the children to play

Another account….this time a couple with a toddler. This time the family were in receipt of HAP though the apartement was substandard. Damp thoughout, numerous safety issues, electical problems. A possible fire trap like the home described before. A ceiling leak in the main bedroom.

As an aside,as a Sate  we transfer millions to private landlords every year. In 2018 €700 million in rent substandard, To private and in this case to what could only be described as a slum landlord. Over the years we could built many decent social homes, homes for good,  for this kind of money….We must switch from demand side sublsidies to focusing on supplying decent homes for all. We did it as far back as the 1930’s when Ireland was a much less affluent country. We need the political will, the political drive to do this again

Going back to this account, a place like is not a home and is no place to rear a child. Especially not a child with additional needs, being supported by the HSE Physiotherapist and Spreech and Lanmguage Therapists. But the living space was inadeuaate for implementing therapeutic strategies.

Little wonder people were in illhealth too, with the parents suffereing from recurrent chest infections, The little toddler on antibotics for 6 weeks

These accounts in this exceptional report are harrowing. And the effects are likely to last into adult life. Children who experience homelessness are more likely to become homeless as adults, are more likely to experience trauma, to experience what is now captured in Adverse Childhood Experiences. Cork Simon did a study which showed that 100% of people Cork Simon supported have experienced one or more ‘adverse childhood experiences’, 78% have experienced 4 or more.

Made sense to me from the work I and people like Sandrada did there, connecting my work in early years in UK with the here and now of homelessness, and the oblivion of addition to ease the pain of years.

The account from the frontline make for harrowing reading and its easy to become frozen in the face of such suffering, of such pain, visited up on youngest, whom we most certainly cannot blame. I wouldn’t blame parents either though sometimes judgement does seep though.

Young Knocknaheeny makes some practical recommendations in this report…they are on page 23

At the very least

A shared understanding of what homelessness is, a broad definition and an understanding of the life long impacts on children, now and into adult lives

A shared understanding by frontline staff on the impact of homelessnmess on children, To be trauma informed

Better maintenance of properties by landlord private and public

Credit for time on local authority waiting list when moving out of catchement


All agencies to be the ‘team around the family’ in distress

Above all secure homes….not hotels, hubs or HAP

Think this is doable in Cork….it has to be. A community, a City, County and County that chersishes all our children equally as said so eloquently in the Proclamation of our states founders in GPO in 1916.

We have unfinished business here for our children. A secure roof is fundamental to realising that promise

Young Knocknaheey have pointed us the way, from what they know and what they see today

Let’s consider what each of us can do