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Kind-hearted Swedish woman steps in to help Irish families facing homelessness

A kind-hearted vet who has come to the rescue of two families facing homelessness has warned that those hit hardest by the housing crisis are being robbed of their self-worth.

Swedish national Anya Norman has provided emergency shelter to Bernadette Webster, 57, and her 35-year-old son, in a makeshift shed.

Another family — David James, his partner Gabriela Marciniak and her son, Luis — are staying in a portable building on Anya’s property in Mullinahoe, Co Tipperary.

Anya built the shed to give her daughter somewhere to study for her Leaving Cert, but it has now become a temporary home. The portable building, occupied by James and Marciniak, was previously her son’s gym.

Anya has appealed to local authorities in Tipperary and Kilkenny, as well as national politicians, to help the families, but has been left frustrated.

“Everything is a last-minute solution here, either for refugees or for the people already here,” she said.

We are all feeling the squeeze and pressure from rising costs, so this is a way of trying to help others who are in a difficult spot.”

Bernadette, who hails from nearby Ballingarry and is now staying in Anya’s shed, said: “We know there are so many people out there looking for houses, but all we want is a normal, quiet life.

“When we contact the council, we’re told: ‘We’ve got nothing to give you’.”

Bernadette Webster in Mullinahoe, Co Tipperary. Picture: Brendan Gleeson

Her son said: “It’s not good for the head but we have to fight on. Between myself and my mother, we have to keep going.”

The family recently delayed celebrating Bernadette’s granddaughter’s birthday, breaking with a tradition of having her over for a party, as they felt “embarrassed” at their situation.

I know I shouldn’t be ashamed, but a lot of people don’t know the situation,” said Bernadette.

Anya said people’s self-confidence and self-worth are being impacted.

“We are actually creating a situation where mental illnesses are going to explode even more because of this housing crisis,” she said. “You shouldn’t have to apologize for existing.”

There are in excess of 3,500 people on the housing waiting list in Tipperary, according to a spokesperson for Tipperary County Council.

“The council is aware of the circumstances of this case and is working closely with the families involved to find suitable alternative accommodation for them,” said the spokesperson.

For David James and Gabriela Marciniak, Kilkenny County Council has “been as helpful as can be”.

David James with Gabriela and Luis Marciniak.  Picture: Brendan Gleeson
David James with Gabriela and Luis Marciniak. Picture: Brendan Gleeson

Gabriela’s son is awaiting an autism assessment, and they are in agreement that the portable building is “no place to rear a child”.

“It has become so difficult to even get somewhere, whether affordable housing or to rent,” she said.

James said: “One place wanted six written references before you’re even allowed to go view the property.”

An application for the family to receive housing support is “under assessment”, says Mary Mulholland, housing director at Kilkenny County Council.

“At present, Kilkenny is experiencing a significant increase in homeless presentations, with a 25% increase in the number of presentations from 2021 and an over 85% increase in figures to the end of August 2020,” she said.

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