Tracy McGinnis with her son Brendan and (top) conditions at their current rented home
Dr Rory Hearne writes:
Tracy McGinnis and her two boys, Declan aged 9 and Brendan aged 13 (who is severely disabled), face the threat of becoming homeless.
Their story provides another stark example of why the government must take real action to solve the housing crisis and declare it a national emergency.
The experience of the McGinnis family shows the extra challenges and suffering faced by carers and the disabled in trying to find suitable and affordable accommodation in the midst of an unprecedented housing crisis.
I met Tracy, Declan and Brendan last week and spoke to her about her housing conditions, the impact on her children, how difficult it to ‘speak out’, and public attitudes towards the vulnerable and the housing crisis.
Brendan, who has just turned thirteen, was born with Congenital CMV, which means he can’t walk or talk, has severe epilepsy, cerebral palsy and scoliosis. He is not expected to live longer than 18. He smiled with his rainbow coloured teddy bear tucked under his arm as he sat in his wheel chair during the interview.
Tracy has a Master’s Degree and worked as a therapist and with NGOs before she had to leave her career behind to become his full time carer when he was three.
She explains that currently they live in a private rented house in Kildare which has major problems:
“the house is so cold and so draughty, the boiler leaks kerosene, there is no light coming into the kitchen, the ceiling is not insulated.
The environmental health officer said it is in violation of various standards. It is half under construction and there are rolls of fibre glass insulation in the attic which is open and the wind sweeps down through to the rest of the house and I am worried about it affecting Declan and Brendan’s lungs.
There is mould growing on the ceiling in the bathroom. I have no lease and the landlord is unregistered”. It is, she says, “unsafe unsuitable, unfit and its putting Brendan’s health at risk, and mine as I try to care for him in a place that’s not suitable and not modified and can’t be modified for Brendan’s needs”.
The photographs of the house shows just how unsuitable it is: a shower chair sitting unbalanced in a bathtub; no safety rails; and she is unable to use a hoist as the doorway is too narrow and the hoist legs cannot go under the tub.
Tracy describes it, as “dangerous, inhumane and risking Brendan’s life as well as my health and safety as his carer as I am forced to carry Brendan in my arms across a wet floor, through doorways, from one room to the other.”
She has been trying to find somewhere else in Kildare to rent, and that would take the state-supported Housing Assistance Payment, which is the government’s main form of social housing support. Under HAP, the local authority pays the landlord the rent and the tenant pays a lower rent to the local authority.
Tracy is eligible for the HAP scheme. However, she has found it impossible to find landlords that will take them.
Landlords, she feels, are discriminating against her, “the landlords were saying they don’t think the house would suit my son’s needs – I heard that a number of times”.
She can’t stay in her current accommodation and so is trying to find rental accommodation that would take the HAP payment and be suitable for Brendan’s needs near Kilkenny City which would be close to Brendan’s school and care supports, and Declan’s old school.
Tracy is terrified of becoming homeless.
“Brendan can’t go into emergency accommodation – a hotel or B & B. He needs to have his medical bed as it helps with pressure sores and his scoliosis – he needs his oxygen near his bed and this can’t happen in a hotel or B&B”.
Tracy’s situation highlights a major problem with HAP, which I have also found in my research on other families experience of homelessness. It’s extremely difficult for vulnerable families to find suitable and affordable housing in the private rental sector.
Modification grants are only available for local authority housing or for a family that owns their own home. Renting someone else’s home does not allow the family to avail of any home modification grants which means the family cannot modify the home to safely and properly care for the disabled family member.
As Tracy explains:
“if a family with a disabled child is left to the private rental market, they are left at a tremendous risk of homelessness. They could be given notice to vacate after a 12 month lease and be back at the near impossible task of trying to find a suitable rental house again .If they are not made homelessness, they are more than likely forced to settle renting an unsuitable, unsafe house”
As the photographs above demonstrate renting a house does not provide security.
A social house, she says, would be more appropriate as it can be modified to suit Brendan’s complex healthcare needs. “We need a long term house that we can make a home secure for our future and modify for Brendan’s care.”
She wants a permanent home as she doesn’t want to ever have to leave the home where Brendan will spend his last years with her and his brother.
“I want to stay there, in that home – in our home – where he was for his remaining time, which I hope and pray is a good number of years still to come. I don’t want to ever have to leave behind the home where all those final memories will have been created”
She explains also that Declan needs to be settled:
“Every day he mentions the word homeless”. Tracy explains of her 9 year old son. “That’s not an exaggeration. He asks ‘when we become homeless what will happen? I don’t want my friends to know’. Every day there is at least one sentence involving homeless. This is not fair and not right so I’m trying to do everything I can to rectify it.”
Tracy, Brendan and Declan’s story is not unique. There are tens of thousands of families and children facing homelessness or living in housing insecurity in Ireland.
What is important about their story is the way in which it highlights the fundamental need for us all to have a secure, permanent, home and the deep meaning that is attached to home – as a place where a family can carry out its daily routine without fear of disruption and as a place where love is put into practice each day – where the vulnerable can be cared for – where memories of loved ones are created.
And where they can be held on when people go. There is a concept in psychology called ‘ontological security’ which captures the importance of home- it is the idea of a secure base from which normal functioning can take place – without it people can suffer mental illness.
Housing therefore cannot be treated as just another commodity as policy currently does. It needs to be seen in its key role as providing a secure base – and the private rental sector in Ireland does not provide this and thus exposes people to real mental health stress.
The solutions to this crisis are clear: the government must declare the housing crisis a national emergency; the state must build social and affordable homes (for rental and ownership) on a mass scale and not leave it to the profit-seeking and failed private housing market; private tenants need to be given real security of tenure (remove the ease with which landlords can evict), and there should be a referendum to enshrine the right to housing in the constitution to guarantee all our citizens a secure affordable home.
It is obvious now that citizen action is needed to get this as the current political and state institutions have shown themselves to be unprepared to enact people-centred housing policies and instead are focused on suiting property industry and vulture investors.
But why is there not more public action and protest taking place around the housing crisis?
Tracy explains that those most affected by the crisis face huge challenges that make It difficult for them to raise their voice, “people are exhausted and depressed and all our energy is devoted to trying not to drown”.
She explains she would not have gone public if it wasn’t for Brendan’s needs and her fear of him, ‘literally dying’, if they had to go into emergency accommodation. Also, she believes that the equal marriage referendum mobilised people because:
it was ‘a happy subject – about a simple idea – an equal right to love’ but “people can’t wrap their minds around disability or homelessness because haven’t been touched by it but they have all been touched by love.”
This is a challenge to those campaigning on the housing crisis – how to connect with the large bulk of the population, increasing numbers of whom are affected by the crisis but do not see a common link with others affected, such as the homeless.
But if you think about it – most people have a home, however unaffordable or temporary – and perhaps this is the missing connection campaigners need to focus on – to get people to think about home, what it is, the importance of it, the impact of its loss, and why everyone should have the right to a secure and affordable home.
Part of the problem is that in terms of housing – too often people who are homeless or on welfare or low incomes are blamed for their problem –just looking for ‘hand-outs’ and ‘everything for free’ and are called ‘scroungers’.
The Taoiseach’s recent comments about ‘welfare cheats’ and standing up for ‘those who get up early in the morning’ doesn’t help this stigma and division.
Of course, part of the intention behind the ‘getting everything for free’ and ‘scrounger’ narrative is about trying to reduce the state’s and politicians responsibilty for supporting vulnerable people. But the vulnerable face homelessness – as Tracy’s case shows – not because of their own fault – but because the system excludes them and doesn’t value all human beings equally and their rights and dignity – because it puts investor’s profits and the ‘market’ first.
There is a lot you – as a citizen – can do to try end this crisis. Call your local TD, get involved in local housing action groups, a political party, get your trade union to raise the issue. This isn’t going to change until the public makes it a political issue and making the system feel the pressure of our abhorrence. It’s up to you, to all of us, to act to change it.
I will leave the last word with Declan who was a little shy when we met but emailed me later:
“I don’t want to be homeless. Brendan would be in danger if he goes into a hotel (emergency accommodation). And where would I go to school? And what about Brendan, how would he get care? I feel worried and scared about being homeless. I’m worried about us”.
How can your heart not be broken reading this? It enrages me to think that the Irish state, because of its failure to provide affordable housing, is doing this to tens of thousands of children every day – removing from them their secure base of a home.
Tracy has an excellent blog where she writes about her experience which you can read here:
She is also speaking at the Inner City Helping Homeless annual homeless awareness campaign ‘Light the Liffey’ Tuesday October 10 at 8pm opposite CHQ building.
Dr Rory Hearne is a Post-Doctoral Researcher in Maynooth University, has written and researched extensively on housing, privatisation, and inequality and is a social justice advocate, he has written two reports recently on the housing crisis in Ireland; With Dr Mary Murphy: Investing in the Right to a Home; A Home or a Wealth Generator.
“Under HAP, the local authority pays the landlord the rent and the tenant pays a lower rent to the local authority.”
This drives me fupping CRAZY. Literally shovelling money into landlords pockets, money that could be used as capital expenditure, to build an asset that will pay for itself.
It’s the equivalent of getting a taxi three times a day because buying a car is too expensive.
It’s blind ideology and nothing else.
The cause of high rent = insufficient supply.
The solution of high rent = local authority pays the landlord.
For the love of God the solution is staring us in the face!!!!!!
I agree that it’s crazy.
But you need to house that person for the next 18 months as their new house is being built.
 and yes, I realise that they aren’t building enough (any!) public houses, so they end up paying rent for 40 years which is the waste.
That’s heartbreaking, fair play Rory for highlighting this awful situation.
Why has she got two children and no partner to support them or pay for the necessary repairs? Some relevant facts omitted
life’s a bitch mate
Another lame ass reply. Try engaging with facts
why ask why she has two children ?
can you even hear how judgmental you are ?
life happens to people and guess what not always how they hoped and planed
Surely repairs should be paid for by the landlord?
Yes for some of the General stuff but They’re not obliged to make special repairs for the specific needs of disabled kids as far as I know, that’s not in the minimum accomodation standards regulations
cause partners are so reliable ! do you live in Disney
The money can be taken direct from their income using an instalment order. What sort of creep won’t pay for his own disabled child?
plenty of creeps
especially those with no income
it’s irrelevant and mud slinging anyway
Not really Janet. The state could do a lot more in this specific area to help people in these situations and make the biological parents accountable to their own children
Does your support for her disabled child continuing to have a home rely on your moral approval of her answers?
If not, those facts are irrelevant.
If so, you’re a prurient assh0le and you don’t matter.
^^^ I love that reply! Thank you! It will be my standard reply from now on when people ask this question! :-)
ahjaysis is a rock of sense.
How come nobody is asking the big question, what type of person wants to live in Kilkenny?
I’m sorry, Tracy. Just want to make light of a horrible situation.
Personally attacking my questions is a sour deflecting away from the poor child’s rights to have both his legal parents contribute to his wellbeing
No, the personal attacks on your questions draw attention to your attempt to shirk the universal humane obligations of care for the less well-off.
Grow up Gorev
There’s nothing there about morality. It’s an economic and legal question. The boy should be supported by both parents it should not be falling only on his Mum
Try sticking to the points raised. Thanks.
I sympathetic to her plight and certainly she has her hands full. I’m assuming it was the lack of suitable (HAP accepted) accommodation in the area is the reason she moved into this kip? That or nothing situation? Is she without family or friends that wouldn’t bunch together to carry out a few essential repairs seeing as the git of a landlord won’t bother his hole. If Apple turned around tomorrow with a cheque for €13 billion, unfortunately the people of Ireland won’t benefit 1 cent from it.
If Apple turned around tomorrow with a cheque for €13 billion, the rest of Europe would be at the bank looking for their slice.
yea and there is nothing wrong with that, Ireland will still get the majority and should put the money to social good like housing this family and others in dyer situations and imagine our European counterparts could also do like wise because they are entitled to do so.. ensuring the rights of all citizens through out the EU over the profiteering of a multinational business is what we should strive for.. ye dope
Speak for yourself.
I’d HATE to see that dodged tax go to schools in Germany or houses in Ireland. It’s rightful place is in with the other 100bn Apple has taken out of the global economy and put into a bank account to do nothing for no one.
For after all, what is business for, other than to amass more and more cash and take it out of circulation?
“Why has she got two children and no partner to support them or pay for the necessary repairs?”
Her children are alive. They need a home and food. Your question has nothing to with anything, but to answer it;
That’s the most important thing you took from this story?
He’s just old school/.
Back in the day you had to check first whether someone was a poor window or a fallen Jezebel before you gave an opinion on a child’s suffering.
Oh for the days when the wrong answer would land the woman imprisoned and the child a bastard meriting no compassion, eh Mrs. Kenny?
Based on some of the answers on this and other threads I’m starting to think that Mrs Kenny is a troll.
Get over yourself
Why can’t a person have a civil debate in here?
Read your comments and see if you can figure out the answer to your own question.
Its something that was clearly purposely omitted
“Of course, part of the intention behind the ‘getting everything for free’ and ‘scrounger’ narrative is about trying to reduce the state’s and politicians responsibilty for supporting vulnerable people.”
Yes. Conservatives preach responsibility to others but never want to take any themselves. Conservatism is not intellectualism, it’s greed, laziness and bigotry looking for excuses.
I’m glad bushirts are focused on poor Apple and the billions we’ll be taking out of their tax-dodging mouths – that’s the sign of real governance there…
He seems a lovely kid.
Terrible story. Kilkenny CoCo really letting these people down. They should be top of the housing list given his needs.
“What is important about their story is the way in which it highlights the fundamental need for us all to have a secure, permanent, home and the deep meaning that is attached to home”
Their story doesn’t highlight anything “for us all”. Their situation is rare. The only thing this highlights is how woeful the CoCo – although the fact she says she hasn’t spoken out about it, it is possible this hasn’t been brought to their attention yet (willing to give the CoCo some chance as Rory’s not one for balanced story telling). Regardless, the HSE should be resolving this and if they can’t get the CoCo to sort this out then they need to be taking the CoCo to court.
““What is important about their story is the way in which it highlights the fundamental need for us all to have a secure, permanent, home and the deep meaning that is attached to home”
Do you seriously find this a controversial statement?
It’s not remotely controversial. It is trite, inaccurate and saccharine, not becoming of someone who purports to deal in fact and empirical evidence.The rest of what Andy said you appear not to have read.
before anyone goes to court, you can request a copy of their scheme of letting priorities and request their policy on medical priorities. if this household have submitted all relevant documentation to the council yet aren’t considered a medical priority then get an FOI done and send it to Mercy Law or whoever you choose to represent you legally. Chances are they don’t have a genuine reason to refuse you and you’ll be offered RAS or similar in the interim. If you require something specially adapted, then you’re going to have to either wait or go looking for a landlord willing to do the adaptions under grant, which is a whole different ball game.
Councillor and TD letters usually help in this regard too. they shouldn’t, but they do.
Apparently due to shortage many councils just don’t hand the emergency accommodation out to people any more and will invent new ways to delay and obfuscate the process
actually nowhere in the article does it say she’s registered for housing anywhere or if there has been any response from a local authority. she lives in kildare but the son’s supports are in kilkenny(?) it’d be interesting to know which as I can offer some practical advice depending which council she’s with.
Kilkenny housing list, but currently living in Kildare. Trying to return back to KK.
Yes, it’s awful. But that’s life, I’m afraid. Our DSP isn’t perfect, but where is?
the “too bad/so sad” approach to those with disabilities.. You should get yerself a paid job with the government, they’d love your attitude…
Oh god, fatalistic cretins like you are an incompetent leaders DREAM.
It must be such an easy life to be able to shrug off a disabled kid going homeless in a country as wealthy are Ireland as the price of doing business.
Why aren’t you over here paying taxes then and trying to correct this injustice? Alternatively send some money home
Well APPLE are over here, not paying taxes and our government are fighting to keep it that way…
Stop being silly. You’re usually better than this
It’s not my fault you’re like obsessed with me.
Lol come down off your high horse
He’s on another thread trying to contextualize child rape in the 70s. I strongly suspect this is a wind uo merchant.
No I’m not trying to Moyest, I am contextualising it. You should try it sometime, it’s called nuance, and I say that as a fan of your comments generally
There is a gofundme page for the boy’s care needs here. I am nothing to do with them, just want to help in a small way
No children should be in this position, but particularly children with severe disabilities.
Parents and carers of such children, or indeed adults should be bumped to the front of the line when allocating the paltry offering of social accommodation. her local health board should be making a racket as her service providers.
Presumably Rory will be lobbying members of the local council until he gets the desired response.
Yes you are right. Apparently the public housing stock by now is so depleted that they just don’t have the units. I’ve heard that straight from the horse’s mouth
Tracy’s story may seem extreme, but in reality her plight is becoming common, yet always a minority.
Imagine for a minute…
Young guy does well in school and goes to college. Meets the girl of his dreams and become a couple. Both graduate and get their foot on the career ladder, they get up early and pay their taxes.
They decide to start a family. Baby comes along and some bad news from the Doctor… “sorry to tell you, but your child has a significant disability”.
One parent will eventually have to become a Carer, so a single income household ( carers allowance is means tested).
How do they keep a roof over their head on a single salary. Think of it as their child hits 10 years, then 20 years, then 30 and 40….. Can’t be done in a 1 bed rented flat.
Food for thought.
I’d hate my kids to face that possible future!
It is means tested but they are most likely in receipt of some assistance. The amount obviously depended on her spouses income. There are also appeal mechanisms where local authorities and health boards are allowed exercise some discretion. There are also local politicians to lobby. If things are bad enough you can get help, I know this to be true. You can be frustrated and have to dig in your heel,s but in my experience people do use their common sense. it shouldn’t be so adversarial when dealing with the state services but there’s also chancers out there too.
A Barbaric Republic. We are looking at our government fighting with all it’s might to protect Apple Inc. from a tax bill (A drop in the ocean to them) and other similar arrangements, cattle are looked after better than it’s own citizens – backward bog minded in power.
I actually heard Yeats on Newstalk yesterday say that people that have children are making a lifestyle choice and tough sh!t if you can’t afford it…..completely utterly blind to the concept of a society – that’s the mentality that retards our country. Everything is base cents and euro.
One other thing y’all can do is to stop protesting when planning permission is applied for!
I’m constantly seeing groups popping up in Facebook to fight the application of planning permission for houses (both private and social).
Seriously? There is a housing crisis and you want to stop new builds?
 this is a general ‘everyone’ not aimed at anyone in specific.
As many other commentators have written, County Councils and government Departments are in a quandary as how to address homelessness.
There are however things that could be done immediately that could better allocate state resources and immediately address housing need, though not in the typical ways being suggested.
There is a large concentrations of public housing in the central business district of Dublin city. Some of it is occupied some derelict. Many properties house generations of people who do not work and live their entire lives on state benefits in prime city centre locations. These locations are sought after by a variety of workers, students and visitors. Dublin city centre is the ‘front room’ of the country, the first place that many people see when they visit our capital.
To many it seems like that state is unable to allocate resources fairly and assess needs justly. Whatever about the policy decisions that led to this situation it is hard for many of general population to understand and empathise when this status quo persists.
How about a radical plan to renovate some of these properties as affordable fixed rent properties for Gardai, Healthcare staff and other key workers who are priced out of our capital city?
This would have various positive benefits – stabilise areas, boost labour relations, and would move away from the situation where the long term unemployed are housed indefinitely at the tax payers expense in prime city centre locations, better allocating resources to address need.
This would help the public have more faith in the fairness of government re-distribution and resource allocation and the extreme cases such as those above would be solved in a much more transparent manner.