25 Sept 2022

Laois renters and commuters choosing 'between heat and food'

Laois renters and commuters 'making choices between heat and food'

Portarlington Train Station. Pic: Michael Scully

Dublin commuters living in Laois in high rent substandard homes are unable to afford to put food on the table, Portarlington's St Vincent de Paul has said.

More and more people are turning to the charity for the first time, desperately seeking money for food, rent payments, heating and train travel costs.

Private rent tenants are afraid to ask their landlords for repairs or replacement appliances, and are living in mouldy, damp homes that flew up as Portarlington mushroomed in size during the boom.

Meanwhile landlords keep raising the rent "and tenants can't seem to do anything about it".

Kieran Madden, area treasurer for Laois and local treasurer for the Portarlington conference, has outlined the crisis situation.

"We help a whole range of people but our new clients are people on what you would call middle income who find themselves stretched because of rents. 

"Rents are going up and they are just not able to afford them, they are out of reach altogether. Landlords are increasing rents and tenants can't seem to do anything about it. 

"They are making choices between heat and food. They wear coats in their houses because they have no fuel to heat them. They are catching colds and infections quicker because of that. 

"People are paying enormous rents and living in very poor conditions, damp walls, no insulation. These are poorly built houses built during the boom. 

"A lot are people who moved down here to commute to Dublin. It wasn't so big a problem during Covid, but now travel costs are an issue as more have to go back to work. 

"Many are coping day to day but if something goes like a boiler or a washing machine, they are not able to meet that additional expense. The landlord won't replace them. We have paid rents for people threatened with eviction. They are afraid to go to Threshold because that would start an argument with the landlord," Kieran said.

They are getting increasing calls from people struggling with rising energy bills.

"The pre-pay topup that was given to people has been taken back, so now they find themselves with a direct debit gone from their account and are unable to pay for basic food. It's falling on then that we are helping people put food on the table," he said.

They helped 134 families last December alone, which Kieran said is "up a good bit" compared to last year. They normally help about 100 families a year.

"The real stress is on people trying to give their children a decent Christmas," he said.

He said that thankfully loan sharks are not about.

"The credit union here is very good and have a special loan scheme, we try to direct people to them where possible. We very rarely come across anyone in debt," he said.

The charity is still not doing home visits due to Covid restrictions, instead relying on phone calls from people in need.

"We take them on trust at face value. Our biggest concern is we are not getting to some people who are too embarrassed to contact us. Don't be. It could be me next week. It could be anybody who needs a bit of help to get back on their feet. 

"We consider any help, not just food but with all sorts of bills and expenses people are unable to pay. We have paid for furniture for people moving into unfurnished homes. Elderly people come to us for help in winter with fuel costs but that tapers off in Spring.

"We are helping adult students training in professions who now can't afford to travel to college, we even pay course fees. Education is a big priority for us, it is the route out of the poverty trap," he said.

He is volunteering for the charity for over twenty years. 

"I haven't seen it get any better, it gets worse every year," the treasurer said.

People can support the charity by donating and also buying items from their shop on Main Street in Portarlington.

"I want to thank the community for their support and generosity, it has been enormous and fabulous. The donations over Christmas were exceptionally high and I thank people for that," he said.

Call Portarlington SVP on (057) 864 3886.

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