AS A rousing chant of “Joan Burton, hear us clear, we don’t want your cutbacks here” resonated around Store Street, a family’s homelife hung in the balance.
Gwen Connell and her three daughters, along with 30 supporters, chose to protest outside the Department of Social Protection this week as her family face homelessness due to a massive hike in their rent.
The family had to leave their home in Blanchardstown two weeks ago, after their monthly rent was increased from €900 to €1,300.
Connell and her three daughters are currently living in separate accommodation. Just prior to the protest, Minister Burton sent a letter to Connell suggesting she may have to rethink her family’s needs.
The Minister’s comments come as the family made an attempt to be heard and highlight the need for protection against rent hikes from landlords, which are leading to homelessness
Focus Ireland’s year end figures state that 16 families per month become homeless in Dublin.
In an email sent to the family this week, Minister Burton suggested the family should “think again about [their] many needs”.
“To ensure that you and your family can live together again in housing that you can afford, you may have to think anew about your family’s many needs, and how those needs can be met within the housing market as it exists at the moment,” she wrote.
Cllr Ruth Coppinger of the Anti-Austerity Alliance, who is trying to assist the family access housing, said Minister Burton’s comments are “callous” and a “new low” for Labour.
“She [suggests] the family need to make ‘difficult choices’ if they want to live together again. What is she saying? That families shouldn’t expect to be together? That they should accept living in slums?”
Cllr Coppinger also condemned claims by Minister Burton’s that housing is still available to rent in Dublin 15.
“Burton suggests the family are only pretending they can’t find rented accommodation in Dublin,” she said.
A social media campaign launched by the family earlier this week saw Connell and her daughters photographed with a message directed at Minister Burton, outlining details of their “nightmare”.
The picture, which was posted on Facebook, attracted 32,000 likes and over 600 shares within the first 24 hours it appeared online.
The family had to leave the house on February 10 where they had lived for almost three years and try to find somewhere more affordable. Speaking about her family’s ordeal however, Connell said she has had no luck finding a new home
“It’s really awful. I’ve been looking for somewhere to rent but I haven’t been able to find anything for €950, which is the rent allowance,” she said.
Connell is currently staying with a friend while her eldest daughter is staying with her grandmother, and her two youngest with their dad.
“It’s not ideal and I really miss them. I’m still getting up to bring them to school in the morning but it’s very hard.”
While Gwen and her family have not declared themselves officially homeless, she says she feels it may be their only option to get help.
“I was told by Fingal County Council and Dublin City Council to come back when I was homeless but it’s not a route I want to drag my children down,” she said.
The worry of their situation has had ill-effects on all members of the family. While Connell admitted she is having trouble sleeping, she said it has affected the younger members of the family too.
“Katie hasn’t been well and I had to bring her into Temple Street Hospital recently. We found out it was anxiety making her ill, but she’s only 10 years old. ” she said.
A spokesperson for the Department of Social Protection said that it is not the policy of the Department to comment on individual cases. However she said that 79,000 people are currently in receipt of rent supplement, showing that a significant number of landlords are accommodating applicants of the scheme.