Children Supporting Children: Homeless Stories from Depaul
"This is my new house. It is made of candy canes and gum drop buttons", writes Anthony, a nine-year-old author featured in Homeless Stories. This new collection, compiled by Depaul, features stories by children living in emergency accommodation and Direct Provision during the Covid-19 pandemic. For children like Anthony, a safe family home exists only in their most fantastical imagination.
Depaul is a cross-border organisation tackling homelessness on the island of Ireland, and all proceeds from this book will go directly to serving the needs of families and young people. We're delighted to be able to help distribute this important and timely collection, and to support Depaul's vision of a society in which everyone has a place to call home and a stake in their community.
Centring children's voices
The contributions in this anthology vary from lockdown recollections of time spent in hotel rooms and centres, to imaginative fantasies and poetry. The young authors and artists, ranging in age from five to eight, have been given free rein to express themselves. Aside from thoughtful introductions by representatives from Depaul and publisher Emu Ink, the authentic voices of these children have been presented without commentary. This important detail empowers children whose voices are often silenced or drowned out by public debates on their lived realities.
Their voices range from deep insight to humour and playfulness; the childhood simplicity of Christmas lists and favourite games intermingle with lines such as, "I pray my Mom and Dad find a nice house for us so that I don't have to wear a mask to go from my bedroom to the bathroom".
The global pandemic has been hard for everyone, but these stories bear witness to the resilience and ingenuity of these children, many of whom have been living in one shared room with their families. Many write of the love and admiration they feel for their parents. And at a time when home comforts have become our entire lives, it's plain to see the shrinking of life that occurs when families are living without homes. Mateo, age six, writes, "They gave us a small room where we quickly converted it together with daddy and mommy into our bedroom, our dining room, our living room and best of all MY GAMES AREA. Everything I have is there in that little room".
Future writers and poets
The range of creativity on display in Homeless Stories is inspiring, with some children's way with words already plain to see. Thandolwethu, age eight, writes that when she first joined her mother in Ireland after being separated in the asylum process for two years, she "treated me like an egg. She handled me like I was fragile". Elsewhere she writes that "during Covid 19 I was bored as a tree".
Young readers will enjoy seeing illustrations by other children published in a book. Splashes of colour and imagery of their surroundings illustrate the children's stories and memories. Mateo's story, "Green, My Favourite Colour" creatively links the grassy garden he longs to have to play in with his Dad with the green shores of Ireland he first spied from airplane windows. There's no doubt that these children will grow up into creative and innovative adults despite the setbacks they have been dealt early in life.
Solidarity and awareness
Many children express gladness that this collection has given them the chance to tell their stories; to speak and be seen in a society that has often rendered them invisible. A common thread for many is the feeling that friends don't understand, and a reluctance to tell classmates about their experiences. Ryan, who lives in Direct Provision, wasn't able to have much contact with friends throughout lockdown. When he was able to message them, he chose not to tell them about what his family was going through because, "they will not understand and I did not want them to know". And Kasey, ten, told RTE news that she feared reading out her own story to her schoolmates at first, because they might think it "weird" that she didn't have a home. She spoke about how her classmates were surprised to learn of her circumstances; they had no idea what she'd been going through.
As homelessness and institutional living faces so many children on the island of Ireland today, it's important for all children to be aware of challenges that may be facing their friends and classmates. Having this book at home is one way to connect these children, whether or not they have ever experienced homelessness in their own lifetimes. Kids who are taught empathy and awareness from a young age will be better able to challenge injustice as they grow older. Depaul's mission is to definitively end homelessness, and someday soon this book will hopefully act as a historic document of what once was. But Homeless Stories will ensure these children's experiences are not erased and that any child experiencing homelessness can know their feelings are valued.
Kasey, who is excited to be finally moving into a new home this year, said it best while being interviewed by RTE news: "I wanted to tell my story because if there's another family who move into our hotel room when we finally get to move out, I wanted them to know they are not alone".
All proceeds from the sale of Homeless Stories will go directly to Depaul to fund their work with families and young people who are experiencing homelessness or are vulnerable to becoming homeless.
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