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More than 500 people living in emergency accommodation, direct provision centres and domestic violence refuges gathered for Christmas food, dancing and magic in Darndale, Dublin, on Sunday.
“It’s great. The kids love it. My son has been counting down all week for this,” said Danielle Rogers, a mother-of-three who has been homeless for 22 months. “When they’re with other kids who are homeless they can feel normal.”
The 350 children and 160 adults were served a full Christmas dinner, while DJ Christopher played kid-friendly tunes such as Pharrell Williams’s Happy at loud volume.
There was a bouncy castle with slides, free slushies and candyfloss, a magician, a petting zoo and, of course, Santa.
Organised by several grass-roots activist groups, this was the second annual party for families and children living in B&Bs and refuges.
The Darndale Community Centre hosted the event, which was organised by the Dublin Bay North Housing Crisis Campaign, A Lending Hand, Coolock Freebies for the Homeless and Darndale Says No. All the food, toys, selection boxes and equipment were donated by local businesses.
Among those taking part were Emma Stewart and her daughter, who have just been allocated a house in Finglas, having been homeless for two years. “This is a great idea for the kids. It gives them a day out.”
Ms Rogers said she lost her home because the landlord was selling up.
“There was nothing I could find in my price range. Now we’re in the Regency Hotel. We were in one room but my seven-year-old, Kai, has autism and he was self-harming, so we’re in an apartment within the hotel now,” she said. “It has been horrible, especially when he has a bad day. This will be our second Christmas homeless.”
Karoline Kiljanska and her daughter Amelia (4) were enjoying the bouncy castle. After two years in an B&B on Gardiner Street, they have just been allocated a house with by Túath Housing.
“We became homeless because the landlord wanted the house back. I have two daughters and it was very hard for them,” she said. “My older daughter wanted to stay in the same school so I have to bring her there, to Blanchardstown, every morning on the bus and that is an hour. Now we have a house right near the school. The girls are so happy. I hope we will be there forever.”
Ms Kiljanska said the party was a great idea for the kids, as they “can see Santa and get a present”.
“I won’t be able to afford to get them presents this year because all my money is going on furniture for the house. I will just get them little things. The house, this is their best Christmas present.”
Kenny and Caiwo (both 9) Adeshina, have lived most of their lives in direct provision. Their mother, Ayo, explained they had been in Athlone for five years and in Watergate House in Dublin for the past three.
“We got our residency last year but we have not been able to move out because we cannot find a home,” said Ms Adeshina.
The twins, describing the party as “great”, said they liked the bouncy castle best. “And the pets. I haven’t seen Santa yet,” said Kenny. “I like everything here.”