Housing groups hold Christmas party for children living in emergency accommodation

"When it's Christmas time and when Santa comes it's just really hard living in a hotel," one child told Henry McKean

Housing groups hold Christmas party for children living in emergency accommodation

Organisers of the party. Image: Henry McKean

The Irish Housing Network - with links to the Home Sweet Home group, who are currently occupying Apollo House - hosted a Christmas party for 130 kids living in emergency accommodation.

Over 2,000 Irish children are homeless this Christmas, and most will be spending it in a bed & breakfast or hotel room, shared with their families and belongings.

I went along to the Ayrfield Community Centre in Coolock in North Dublin and met some of the kids and families.

These families are from all walks of life - the 'hidden homeless', you could say. They were delighted with the party: Santa took time out of his busy schedule to hand out gifts; Wham's Last Christmas was blaring; and everyone had given up their time for free - the DJ, the candy floss man, the ice cream van. People had donated new toys, a bouncy castle and hot dogs.

The organisers of the party were overwhelmed with the response from the public. Anne Farrelly - from the Irish Housing Network and A Lending Hand (a group who are helping people through the housing crisis and emergency accommodation) - was thrilled with the response.

I met one mum, who has four children and another on the way. She spoke to me about the Christmas party and her situation at Christmas living in hotel room.

"I'll only start getting emotional when I start talking about it all the time - it's going to be hard," she said.

"It's just being stuck in one room, the kids not being able to go out and play [...] My boys love being on the outside, they love playing out - they don't get that opportunity any more [...] They've no life, they've no childhood."

Her son told me: "It's hard because, when it's Christmas time and when Santa comes it's just really hard living in a hotel."

I really should always remain professional but I got upset here. I got upset on their behalf - a family of four and one on the way, living in a hotel room near the airport for Christmas.

"All you can do is hope for the best for Christmas"

It's very hard for parents - rent caps make no difference to them whatsoever, as they are way past that. I heard stories of how people had to leave because the landlord put the rent up, or because the bank is taking the house from the landlord since the landlord wasn’t paying his mortgage.

There was a lot of support for Home Sweet Home, who had a hand in organising this party in Coolock. Some support the occupation of Apollo House, even if it might not suit their individual situation.

Eoin - a young dad who is homeless with his two young kids (a boy and a girl) - says rent is just too high at €1,800 a month for a standard three-bedroom home. He is not working but his partner is.

"It's the Government turning a blind eye - this situation has been stemming since 2008, 2009," he told me. "They've failed again, again and again to put in proper policies and procedures.

"It's not going to last forever, the Apollo House I mean. [But] it's pushing hearts and minds together."

Rita, who has a job in catering, spoke about the stigma and how hard it is to even admit you are homeless.

"Sadly my son and I have been homeless... well, without home actually as I don't like using the word homeless as I find it becomes very disease-like," she observed.

"You basically have to stay where you are, and keep working away and try to actually dig yourself out of the homeless cycle. I've had to adapt and accept this is it - turning negatives into positives in a big way".

The community spirit was very strong at the Christmas party - many people came together to make the party, wrapping 150 gifts in Ayrfield Community Centre.

The Christmas period will prove challenging, however. Kim, who is 29 with two sons, explained to me how she is going to get through Christmas living in an airport hotel room.

Kim and her son. Image: Henry McKean

"It's terrible on the kids - they've nowhere to play, so they're constantly sitting beside you eating," she explained.

"They're both very distressed, so they do comfort eat an awful lot. They're very emotional. It really took its toll on my family.

"It's very emotional to see all the kids coming together - all you can do is hope for the best for Christmas."