June 23, 2017, 2:17 a.m.
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After almost five years in direct provision, and 12 more – first in private rental accommodation and then in a one-bedroom Dublin City Council flat – Maher Allassar and his family describe their new home as heaven.
The Palestinian refugee, his wife, Alla Korilenko, his 15-year-old stepson, Gleb, and their two-year-old daughter, Mariam, moved into a development provided by Focus Ireland for elderly and disabled residents, on the grounds of Our Lady’s Hospice in Harold’s Cross, in south Dublin, three weeks ago. Allassar has polio and walks with a frame, with difficulty.
The flat they had was smelly, they say, as cooking odours lingered. Gleb had to sleep in the living room, and a loud neighbour meant none of them slept well. “There was mould and damp. Mariam was sick a lot. It was really tough.”
Allassar has great friends in the Irish Palestinian community, he says, particularly his GP, Dr Bassam Naser, who helped them apply for social housing under the disability category.
After an unsuccessful interview for disability housing with another charity last year, they were hesitant about going for the Focus Ireland development. But Dr Nasser encouraged them – and, Allassar says, the interviewer was lovely.
“When we were told to come back I thought maybe we signed something wrong, but they said, ‘You have a house.’ My wife cried. Of course I cried. It was really emotional.
“Here we are in heaven. We have three bedrooms, a kitchen, living room and two toilets. We say, ‘Thank you, friends. Thank you, Focus Ireland. Thank you, Ireland’.”
Their new home is one of 28 provided on land donated to Focus Ireland by the Sisters of Charity 15 years ago. Speaking at their opening on Thursday, the charity’s founder and president, Sr Stanislaus Kennedy, described huge resistance from local residents to the proposed social housing.
“They didn’t want Focus Ireland here. They thought it would downgrade the area. They thought lots of things. It’s important to remember these were active citizens with good intentions, but they were misinformed, and they had a wrong perspective.”