Orla Thornton outside one of the vacant houses in Rathmullan Park.
A young Drogheda woman who has been on the housing list for 11 years is to hold a protest outside the Council offices in Fair Street next Friday. She wants to show the council that she and others looking for housing are real people and not just numbers.
There is much talk about the housing crisis in this country that a decade ago bailed out the banks to the tune of billions and in the process turned its back on a whole generation condemning many to a life of shattered dreams and untold misery.
The gulf between the top earners and those on average pay or benefits has widened to unprecedented levels leaving a generation that has lost its way, people in the prime of their lives with nowhere to channel the energy and creativity for which we Irish are renowned.
Drogheda woman Orla Thornton is one of those people, she exudes confidence and energy. She’s Intelligent and humorous and you’d imagine she’d be great craic on a night out. She did a course in business studies and for a while ran her own small business but that fizzled out in the crash.
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Now her life revolves around finding somewhere decent for her and her two children, a five year old boy and a nine week old baby daughter to live. It is obvious from the way she talks that she loves them both dearly and wants their lives to be better than hers.
So it was absolutely shocking to hear that she had spent a large part of yesterday in tears. What could happen to reduce such a confident young woman to tears?
Sadly, Orla’s story is one that is shared by many thousands of people of her generation. She is desperately trying to find somewhere to live but saving enough for a deposit on a house is way beyond her reach it is almost as if the powers that be, the system of allocating local authority homes, is conspiring against her.
A couple of years ago Orla had an hour long meeting with the homeless officer. "I poured my heart out to him, told him all about my circumstances and my fears for the future and my desperate need for a house.”
“He said he’d make a few calls and asked me to ring him the next day to see what he could do for me. When I rang back he didn’t even remember my name!” she said.
“It is very hard to admit defeat and to ask a total stranger for help and he couldn’t even remember my name! It just made me feel so small and insignificant.”
Like many people of her generation (she’s 32), Orla is finding it impossible to buy a home and almost impossible to rent in a market where the average rent is €1200 per month.
She and her two children are currently living in a poky little rented house with two bedrooms that are damp and cold and totally unsuitable for young children. She pays €550 a month for the privilege which she knows is small money in today’s market.
She has been trying to get a council house for almost twelve years but seems no closer to success now than the day she started.
Orla has been homeless four or five times in her young life and, like many thousands of others she has to contend with a public housing system that is so complicated and convoluted that she reckons even the people administering it don’t quite understand how it works.
A lot has to do with how long you are “on the list” for a house. Orla was on the list in Louth for three years and then she went to live in a rented house in Grangerath. That was a mistake because, whilst it is still in Drogheda, Grangerath is in County Meath.
She went “on the list” in Meath but that meant she was no longer “on the list” in Louth so when she moved into another house in Louth she had to start back “on the list” all over again.
By now she has notched up eight years on the list in Louth (11 if you count her initial three years before moving to Meath) and still there is no sign of a house for her and her young family.
“It’s a horrible situation to be in” Orla says, “I feel that I am being discriminated against. I used to be a very positive person and had great plans, but now I’m just fighting to survive. Some days I end up sitting at home crying with frustration. They make you feel so small.”
Pointing to one of the three boarded up houses just around the corner from her little home in Rathmullan Park Orla wells up.
“I would move into one of those in the morning” she says. “I would welcome the chance to get in there and clean it up and create a home for myself and my family but the council doesn’t work like that.
“Instead there are thousands of people sitting at home getting depressed with nothing to do and it seems like the authorities just don’t care.”
“I see groups of volunteers are cleaning up the back lanes and the heritage buildings in Drogheda and that is great. Why can’t similar groups get together to get empty houses back into use?”
Orla has decided to get back to being positive and to do what it takes to be noticed by the authorities. She is planning to hold a protest outside the Louth County Council offices on Friday next.
“I’m just annoyed at being treated as if I don’t exist or that I’m invisible and continually being made to go around in circles” she told Drogheda Life.
“I’m going to stand outside the council office with a banner saying ‘hello, I’m here, I’m a real person’ and I hope as many people as possible who are in the same boat as me will join me in Fair Street between 9.30 and 12.00 in Fair Street on Friday morning (September 15th).
She has no intention of being forgotten again.