Finding yourself homeless at any stage of your life is one of the most stressful things a person will ever have to face, but becoming homeless during a pandemic adds extra challenges.
Osterley Lodge, one of COPE Galway’s emergency accommodation centres, has provided shelter for many women in the past year, at a time in their lives when they are at their most vulnerable. Having somewhere to stay, with access to showers, washing facilities, food and support can be a lifesaver.
“I’d probably be dead if it wasn’t for Osterley,” says Julie*, who is in her mid-thirties. She arrived in Osterley three months ago having spent some time in unsuitable accommodation – no heating, no hot water.
“I was trying to take care of my brother – he was in a very bad accident and had had mental health issues; it left my family very shaken. Where I was living wasn’t very healthy for me to begin with, but throughout the days and the months, I just started to get emotionally and physically exhausted. There seemed to be something constantly blocking me from getting out of the situation.
It was like the universe was just working against me, until I just decided I wouldn’t get up anymore. I suppose I let go of who I was and then, just lost my goals. I lost everything really, and went into a complete depression. I never understood what depression was before that. It felt like everyone gave up on us.”
At her lowest point, Julie found herself standing at the edge of the water by Nimmos Pier, and had to be talked down by Claddagh Watch Patrol, a group of volunteers who patrol the waterways of Galway City, with the aim of preventing suicide. While the pandemic has made being homeless more of a challenge, she feels it has, in some ways, been the catalyst she needed to face her issues head-on.
Thinking too far into the future isn’t something she feels able to do right now, but COPE Galway is giving her the space, the support in the form of advice and counselling services, and the time needed to take the steps she needs to get her life back on track. “I’m just trying to get through every day as it is. I’m not asking for a forever house, but I just want somewhere where I can put my feet down, finish my education and move on from all this drama.”
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of interviewees