Imagine it is 2003 and you’ve just got a job. A good job, a job you want. It pays well and has a good social life attached to it. A year in you decide to move out of the damp, crumbling flat you’ve called home for the past four years. You start looking on Daft under house share. You can afford some of the nicer places.
Then you start getting email from banks suggesting you consider buying a place. So eventually you do. In late 2005 you buy a two-bedroomed apartment on the wrong side of the river but close to town. It feels so good to have your own place. Sure, it cost a lot but you are no fool and see house prices disappearing into the stratosphere. Everybody says, “Get on the ladder now, before it’s too late.”
The place is big enough so you get a roommate to rent the second bedroom. He has great ideas about the décor, is house trained and is good to chat to. He is a software developer and is so busy you hardly even see him anyway.
The bank offered you a top up loan so you could furnish the place but you only took a fraction of what they were offering – because you like Ikea furniture and kitted the place out for a couple of grand. You stay in a bit more but you have a TV and a music system and you love being in your own space.
Then one day your boss asks you in for a chat. He needs somebody to go overseas – to the office in Zurich – turns out a lot of people you know are relocating there.
You’ve just had your annual review and pay increase, and your boss is talking a big future for you. You decide to turn down a promotion and transfer – life is good just as it is.
Then the boss tells you the whole operation is moving offshore…though you get caught trying to imagine it since Switzerland is landlocked. He says a lot of things on the way to saying your role is not required. He’s really sorry. Not to worry, these are the good times and hardly a week goes by without someone trying to head hunt you.
Within the month you have a new job. Okay, it is not permanent and pensionable like the last one, but look where that got you? It’s a one-year contract, no travel, which you did like in the old job, but the money is still great and you are, genuinely, excited by the challenge.
By 2008, that soft landing they were talking about is clearly not happening and house prices are dropping. You are not planning to sell and are managing to pay the mortgage; and you and your roomie seem to weathering the slow building economic storm. Your contracts are being renewed year on year, and while there’s a degree of uncertainty in that, the pay cheques keep coming in even if the annual bonuses have been discontinued and there are mutterings of pay cuts.
Then one evening he comes home early to say he wants to take you out to dinner to celebrate. He’s been offered a fantastic job in Lodz, in his native Poland, where they
are crying out for programmers like him. You are genuinely happy for him but feel the loss even before the morning you take him to the airport.
It makes no sense but you see him as the line in before and after. After he’s gone you get a new roommate. There seem to be fewer overseas workers looking for a place to live and eventually, after you lower the rent a couple of times, somebody moves in. She’s a project manager, which taxes your brain in much the same way as offshore, landlocked Switzerland. No matter, she has a steady job and pays the rent. She’s home a bit more than you’d like but it encourages you to get out more.
Then one evening she doesn’t come home and you wait for six weeks before accepting the horrible fact that she’s done a runner with two months’ rent owing. You cover it from savings but also have to cover all the bills instead of half. Your counting your blessings in having good steady work, when the boss tells you that due to a rationalisation your job is disappearing.
You are feeling slightly bewildered to begin with, and for some reason seem to be side-stepping opportunities. It kind of happens in slow motion but incredibly quickly. Suddenly you are six months out of work and two months behind with the mortgage. There’s a guy, working ‘freelance’ in the spare room, who pays rent in cash and usually late, but he’s the best you can do. You’ve had to lower the rent twice for him and put up with a lot of nonsense.
Some weeks you get work, some weeks you don’t. Most times you get paid, sometimes you don’t. The day rate shifts to an hourly rate and that moves down the gears until you seriously and honestly consider you’d better off working in McDonalds. Only the other day you saw a queue of about 50 people outside McDonalds waiting to be interviewed for customer satisfaction roles. You know you wouldn’t stand a chance.
You always thought back then when you were busy and working and taking care of a home and a social life, nothing would be nicer than having nothing to do all day. Not a care in the world. No bills, no bosses, no bother. You savoured your days off, your two-week getaways to the sun. The notion of being aimlessly free and unbridled was a wonderful fantasy.
So you lost the apartment in 2013…fairer to say you held on to it until then. A long, bitter, disempowering fight with the bank, with your employers, with your self-respect. You stayed with friends for a while but nobody was safe from the recessionary tsunami sweeping the land. They couldn’t afford to keep you long term; you couldn’t afford to pay. You moved into a damp, cold basement on the North Circular Road and Social Protection paid some of the rent.
And then one day the vultures are circling – your landlord gives you notice that he is selling the rat-infested hole of a semi-derelict house to “an overseas investor”. You get 90 days’ notice and over that time look for a place pretty much every day but the rent allowance doesn’t even go close to covering the cost of the rents. Most of your
friend have either left for Australia, or Canada, or anywhere by now or have withdrawn. That is happening a lot. Sometimes you listen to the talking heads on the radio and television and wonder if they live in the same country, in the same world as you. They talk garbage but they have all the air time.
You leave the television behind when you move out because there’s no room in the place you move to…it’s run by nuns but paid for by the State. You don’t even know anymore. It’s short term, they tell you that and after six months they tell you they’ve found a place closer to the city centre. Better for you socially, they say, better for you for job hunting. You know this is bullshit but you pack up and move into what is a tiny room in a B&B on Gardiner Street. At night you lie awake and listen to the city lose its mind and eventually pass out.
You’ve been living between hostels and doorways since the night a man came knocking on your door at 4am, screaming he was going to kill you because he’s convinced your someone else. The first time you laugh him off, the second you report it. This time he sounds deadly, insanely serious. The B&B shrugs, Social Protection shrugs too. Sometimes the hostels are full or crazy so you find a doorway. Even those are scarce – safe doorways. If you could only feel something under your feet, you’d know you’d reached bottom but you’re not there yet.