A DESPERATE Carlow woman threatened to squat in the council offices as she sought accommodation for herself and her six-year-old son with special needs.
Karen Middleton and her supporters refused to leave the offices of Carlow County Council last week unless she was given accommodation.
Karen had been living in Dublin, but following the breakdown of a relationship, she moved back home to Carlow around eight weeks ago.
Speaking to The Nationalist on Friday outside the council offices, she said: “I was trying to sort out accommodation but I was going from family member to family member, friend to friend, sleeping on couches and floors.”
Almost two weeks ago, Karen presented herself as homeless at Carlow County Council.
“I ended up in Wexford in the women’s refuge. They said Carlow needed to deal with us and sent us back in a taxi.”
She was put up in accommodation by the council, first in a hotel and then in a B&B until last week.
“I was told on Wednesday that I was secured until Friday next week and then yesterday (Thursday) evening I got a phone call from the council saying that I had to get out and leave. They said they wouldn’t help me anymore,” added Karen.
She stated that she was given no further explanation and there had been no issue in the B&B.
Sinn Féin’s cllr John Cassin helped Ms Middleton to secure accommodation on Thursday night.
“If not for that, I would have been sitting in the council offices last night.”
Over the weekend, Karen and her son were put in accommodation funded by the Department of Social Protection.
This is understood to have occurred after the council contacted the department. However, Karen has been told that is the end of the accommodation and she plans to picket once again.
“I am prepared to sit in the council all night if I have to. I have nowhere else to go. I just want them to help secure a long-term solution. I’m not expecting them to turn around and say ‘here’s a house for you’. I have gone to the letting agencies, checked papers and internet looking for a place. I am doing my bit,” added Karen.
The high cost of rent in Carlow far exceeds the money offered under the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) of €680, which Ms Middleton said she would receive.
“The houses in Carlow are €800 to 900,” she said.
Her son Luke has special needs and Ms Middleton said that he has been left terrified after witnessing a confrontation between herself, the gardaí and council officials at the council offices.
“I don’t know whether I am coming or going. I keep going for my little fella, that’s my only reason. I am not sleeping. I can’t even eat.”
Ms Middleton has been supported by members of The Hub, Carlow, a group which assists people in mortgage distress and housing difficulty.
Following Ms Middleton’s pledge to squat, Carlow County Council has placed a security guard in the lobby of the council building.
Vincent Kavanagh, a member of The Hub, said: “They’re bringing in security to deal with a single woman and a six-year-old special-needs child to throw them out onto the street. What sort of council does that?”
Director of services for housing Seamus O’Connor said he could not comment on individual cases.
However, Mr O’Connor outlined the demand for council housing in the county.
“We have 1,900 people on the council’s housing waiting list. We do give temporary accommodation in cases of absolute emergency. We spend a lot of money on that every year.”
Mr O’Connor said that 300 people who had to live with their families in Carlow are seeking council housing.
“I could not afford to put 300 people who are on the list without HAP or RAS support into a hotel every night until they get a house.”
Speaking of the presence of a security man, Mr O’Connor said this was done for the safety of the public.
“Certain persons have occupied the council on at least four days to date, threatening to squat and not leave the building. Naturally, we would have to take action to ensure the safety of the public when entering the building to do their business.”