“I’ve been rearing myself on the street for a very long time. I’ve had a very hard life. It hasn’t been easy at all. But I got through it”.
Paula comes from a town in Co. Kerry. She tells the story of her pathway to the Cork Simon Community and how she became homeless.
“I left home when I was 16. I’ve a beautiful mother and grandmother. But my father was a violent alcoholic. To this day I don’t speak to that man. I had to get away and do my own thing. So I’ve been on the street and in hostels ever since (over25 years).
I went to a house for homeless girls. I was there a long, long time. I’ve been institutionalised all my life. I wouldn’t know what it is like to live independently on my own. I dunno what it’s like to live out in the real world.
I’ve been a psychiatric patient for 15 years. I had a nervous breakdown in my twenties. I was kept in a psychiatric hospital for two years without getting out. I got ten electro-shock treatments to my brain to bring me back. All over a man. My husband did that to me. I stuck by him for 18 years. He put me through torture. He put me through hell and back.
I couldn’t see the light at all, thought I’d never see the end of the tunnel. But I did though – I got through it.
I’d a hard old life. I’ve been through the wars and back. I’m after doing so many things to my body I dunno how I’m here – but I’m here.
“I’ve been off drink for one month now and I feel the benefit. Drink is the downfall of my life. Drink and me don’t suit at all. It’s ‘cos I’m on medication every day. With the influence of the vodka I can go off the handle.”
I’ve lived in squats. You just find a place – you know where they are. Anywhere to have a roof and be out of the cold – out of the winter. Waking up at 5 in the morning in a squat. Just trying to look after yourself. I’ve slept on the streets hail, rain or snow and I’ve survived it. It is horrible though just me there on my own. You feel so lonesome. Tears come to my eyes sometimes. It’s not nice being homeless.
Since I lived in a residential centre for girls for a long time I really only became homeless when it closed. That led me into my first contact with Cork Simon about 14 years ago or so. I’ve been coming here (Cork Simon Community) since my twenties. I’ve no choice only to be here; if I didn’t have this place where would I go? I’d be out on the street. You have to make your room in here as homely as possible. I like picking up bits and pieces for my room every week. It is my home and it is where I sleep and I try to keep it clean and comfortable. I’m nearly a part of the furniture around here.
Simon comes to me and asks do I want to do things. I get involved in every activity here at Simon. I need to keep busy. I never say no. I get involved in everything and I enjoy it. I’ve done computer exams and First Aid exams. I love the singing and the drama. I did the cooking course too – that was very good.”
“I was never taught to read or write. But now I’ve done all these exams. I’m after achieving so many exams in here over the last two or three years. They (the certificates) are all over my room inside.”
“I’m the sort of person that needs to be kept busy. So every day I have that job in the kitchen from 4-5pm. It keeps the mind going. So you are not doing self-harm. I’ve been doing self-harm – I cut myself. It’s not an addiction but I just cannot stop. I’ve cut myself an awful lot. Once it comes into my head I have to take it out. I have to, have to, have to hurt myself. I do it with a blade. I feel a relief when I’m doing it. I don’t feel the pain when I’m doing it. I’ve done a lot worse to my body. I’ve thrown myself into rivers. I’ve a skin graft on my stomach for burning myself. I’ve done so many things to my body I nearly dunno how I’m sitting here. (When I do it) it’s a relief – all the tension is gone in my head. I don’t feel no pain afterwards. It might hurt or sting but it is OK for me to do it. I think it is alright to punish myself; that is the problem.”
“I’m getting help for all that. As we speak I’m a psychiatric patient. I have counselors and psychiatrists (helping me). I don’t feel ready to live on my own because of being over-institutionalised by people. I don’t know what it is like to live in the real world – no, not now.”
“My own daughter lives with my mother. She’s a beautiful child. Every Wednesday we meet and do girlie things. We go for a coffee or a McDonald’s. We go to the shops. Outside of being mother and daughter we’re like two best friends. She is a good girl, a very good girl. She has grown up to be a beautiful looking woman. She is lovely, stunning and gifted. She will be 18 soon and we are going to live together then. Next year. I’d love to see her come back to me and the two of us live together in one place. There is always a ‘but’ in that – for what reasons I don’t know. That is my aim. I would love to have a corporation house just me and my daughter together. I think I deserve it. I really think I deserve my own keys to my own home.
I reared myself up on the street. It was tough going but you have to have small bit of toughness in there as well. I wasted 43 years of my life. I don’t want to waste anymore of my life. I want to do something with it. Positive things”.