“I exited bankruptcy in July 2016 and was questioned on RTE news about what would now change. ‘Nothing’ I said and it was true at the time. If anything I was in a harder place than when the banks repossessed my home and my business collapsed six years ago. I was heart-broken and good for nothing. I wrote an article about homelessness in the Irish Times and the next day a friend offered me a cottage to rent. One year later it feels like home. My tiny cottage sits snugly in the hills overlooking the pretty village of Shillelagh. I have work in PR and as a freelance journalist. I pay my bills. I even go out to dinner on occasion. I have never been happier. My children live nearby and they are amazing young women. I get up each morning with gratitude in my heart. I have put the survival mode behind me and I am shining now. Every human being deserves to shine and this time is mine.”
First published in the Irish Independent 09/10/2016
I am now the proud possessor of a hammer. A proper hammer, and I have used it a goodly number of times. About 20 times so far. To hang pictures. On the walls of the house where I rent.
A little over a month ago, I did not have walls to rent. I had exited my old house, rented for the past 10 years, where I had lived with my two daughters and our animals.
I had exited our house as the lease had been terminated. There was no trouble, just the owner wanted her house back. I searched Wicklow high and low for alternative rental accommodation but nothing was to hand.
As the months rushed together, I found myself getting more and more frantic. I looked at caravans, thinking I might buy one at the end of the summer. But like time shares, caravans should never be bought in warm months. Fortunately, the ones I viewed were so shabby as to be unattractive even in the heat, which was one positive consequence of a modest budget.
I planted my daughters in a cottage, found at the eleventh hour. A friend offered to rent me a bedroom and at the grand old age of 51, I went couch surfing. I had tried to embrace the new me, the new rental-continental me, and now the trendy couch-surfing me. But I was failing miserably.
I went each day to Lawless Hotel in Aughrim and plugged myself into the net. I pestered those patient staff with gentle requests to reset the modem when the internet went down. I drank endless cups of tea and sometimes, when budget allowed, bought lunch as well. I hid myself in a corner and did my best to ignore the busy rural trade plied in front of me.
I resigned myself to several months of stealing internet while I tried to set up my business again. It stuck me forcibly that having no fixed abode made it very hard to be upbeat and win business. I chatted on the phone and joked about my incipient alcoholism should I continue to have to work out of bars with internet. It was tough going.
But back to the hammer. In the middle of all this angst, I got a message from a friend. He had heard about my latest predicament (and there have been quite a few) and got in touch to say he had a cottage to rent. I saw the cottage the next day and moved in the following weekend.
Since that time, I have thrown all notions of minimalism out the window. I have rejected the clean interior designs beloved by the very cool. Instead, I have embraced my inner clutter goddess and have been nesting with an enthusiasm that is religious in its zealotry.
I realise that I had not bought one thing for the house I rented for the previous 10 years. After losing my original home to the banks, I had been coasting. I lived in the house but it was not a home, not in the material sense. I thought I was ‘over’ possessions. I had them all taken from me, or I had sold them or I had lost them – and I no longer cared.
Now, in my little unexpected dreamboat of a house I can only see my possessions, which are growing daily. I have raided all the charity shops in a 50-mile radius. I buy things, small things, clutter, knick- knacks, bric-a-brac, and bring them home to my little house. I place them on small tables, on window sills, and I hang pictures on the walls. With my little hammer.
I have never been so given over to materialism. It matters not one whit that my budget is modest and my target shops are charitable ones. Last week, I was trying on a skirt in a Saint Vincent de Paul shop in Tinahely. In the make-shift dressing room, I spotted a tangle of coloured glass. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a pendant lamp shade.
It was intended for use in the shop but the kind attendant sold it to me for a fiver. I brought it home and hung it in my bedroom. And then I turned on the light. The bling is terrific. The ceiling and walls of my bedroom are littered with shards of coloured light.
I, who once had crystal chandeliers, am riveted by my coloured glass. I rush guests up to my bedroom and turn on the display. I am prouder than a circus master of my precious find.
I am the same for every stick of furniture in the house, every trinket I purchase and every plant I buy. I walk around my home and talk to the contents. I thank them for their use or their beauty and sometimes both. It is like a veneer of pixie dust is covering the entire house. I never knew that I had missed feeling at home so much and having now arrived at home, I am so happy.
Facing homelessness for the second time, Jillian Godsil explores how this social issue has become a middle-class problem
I’m trying to think of a word to sum up how I feel. I think there must be one out there but I can’t put my finger on it. I know what it feels like, a funny ache that lives mostly in the pit of my belly but sometimes it crawls up to lodge in the back of my throat.
I am homeless, for the second time in my adult life, and – though each person’s situation is unique and many are worse than mine – I am part of the great sickening statistic that haunts this land.
The first time I became homeless, the banks repossessed my fine home and sold it for a pittance. There were so many wrongs I hardly know where to start.
But I was stoic then. Gracious almost. Leavetaking suited me, liberated me or so I told myself. I embraced the continental way of living. Let us rent instead. I threw the words out carelessly as if they cost me nothing. I was a new woman to whom possessions were as naught. It is easy to be flippant about possessions when none are left.
I swaggered around as if being divested of things was easy. But this was a façade, and I was dreadfully hurt by the absence of things – notably my security. And more notably still, my children’s security.
Here you may want to stop me, to rail against me and deliver a lecture. Like a pregnant woman who gathers advice thick and fast from well-meaning, if censorious, others, a woman re-entering the state of homelessness tends to get lectured.
The first time I lost my home it happened in a flurry of newspaper clippings. I was among the first to have a home repossessed by the banks. Not the first but a public first (I was in the already in the public eye after I had tried to sell the house on YouTube). As the eviction unfolded, I felt the weight of injustice push down on me from all sides, and I welcomed the media spotlight upon my situation.
Now I am facing into the maelstrom of homelessness again. I am not alone. There are hundreds of families being evicted every month and moving into emergency accommodation. Tens of thousands more sit on the social housing list. For every vocal Erica Fleming, who told her story of homelessness and single motherhood through RTÉ and other media, there are hundreds of silent witnesses.
This time I am lacking any of the securities I felt before. There’s no sense of karma. I smile in all the right places, laugh as loud as the next person and perform daily tasks with astonishing ease. There, look, I am dressed and functioning. Offering words and busily attending to matters.
Last August we were told we must leave. Plenty of time to find a little cottage and a few acres you’d think. But then perhaps you have not been listening to the news or reading the papers.
The freight train of our own personal eviction notice has paid no attention to months, weeks and days in its relentless pursuit of its deadline. It has slammed through all time, steel wheels slicing through our emotive pleas for clemency.
God’s grace descended on us at the final hour but it separated us too. I managed to find my children, now young adults, lodgings in a pretty cottage with just three rooms. There they have sequestered themselves with their belongings and dog and cat. They are creating a new home and I am proud of their independence while all the time there is a tearing in my belly at our forced, untimely separation.
I am residing in a friend’s house. I call it “couch surfing” to sound modern. I am surrounded on all sides by boxes and rails and the sad paraphernalia of a rented life; nothing more sturdy than a chair or lamp. This is temporary: even friendship has an expiry date when accompanied by suitcases.
I wake up this morning, my first morning in my current lodging and look around at my life. To cheer myself up, I am calling it an adventure. This morning I have a new, if temporary, view outside my bedroom window. I am surrounded by fields in turn populated by horses, cows and sheep. It is very peaceful and pastoral.
I’m sure homeless people all over Ireland are trying to convince themselves or their chlidren that their situation is not as awful as it feels. But I do it anyway.