Homeless mum feels like she has failed her family

Martine Courtney

Martine Courtney and her family are among the hundreds of homeless people in Northern Ireland being moved from hotel to hotel.

The 53-year-old mum-of-three has said she feels like she is failing her children.

BBC News NI has obtained figures showing the Housing Executive spend on hotel and B&Bs has risen significantly.

The Housing Executive has said Martine had requested a specific property type in an area of high demand.

She is on a housing waiting list after her landlord sold her rental property.

'It's like living in a fishbowl'

I met Ms Courtney in the countryside overlooking Belfast, close to her latest hotel placement.

She has been put up in emergency accommodation in Banbridge, Glenavy and more recently in Belfast.

She refused to move to a hotel in Limavady because of work commitments and childcare.

“It’s like living in a fishbowl. There's no space, there's no privacy. The sleeping facilities; we are on top of each other," she said.

"There's bunk beds and one bed. There's one bathroom that we all have to share.

"There is nowhere to eat, no laundry facilities in the places that they put us."

“I still have to go to work. My daughter still has to go to work. And I still have to get my other daughter up for school in the mornings."

Ms Courtney said one of the places offered as accommodation meant her daughter was not able to go to school for a week.

“It was basically in the middle of nowhere on a main road."

Ms Courtney said the situation had affected her daughter's mental health and she has attended counselling in school as a result.

“I was told that every day around about 11 o'clock my daughter gets anxiety. That is in connection with the time that we have to leave hotels that we’re being booked in to," she said.

"She's in school filled with anxiety wondering by the time she gets out of school, where are we going to be placed?"

Martine Courtney
Martine Courtney said she was worried for her younger daughter's mental health [BBC]

The Housing Executive said there had been a significant increase in demand for temporary accommodation since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.

From 1 April to 31 December 2023, there were 3,509 placements in 'non-standard accommodation'.

Those placements can involve multiple people from the same family or the same household being placed in multiple settings.

The Housing Executive’s spend on hotel and B&Bs has also risen significantly, reaching £7.6m in the financial year 2022/23.

A Housing Executive spokesperson said Martine had requested a four-bedroom property with ground floor access.

“As the family has chosen to be housed in an area of high housing demand and low housing turnover, we have not been able to find a permanent home at this time," they said.

“We will continue to work with them to seek permanent housing as soon as possible.”

Ms Courtney has said she cannot afford to rent privately given the costs involved in securing a property.

“You will probably need, in this day and age, at least £3,000 to be able to rent," she said.

"You need a deposit upfront, a month’s rent in advance and if you don't have a guarantor, you would need double that."

Data released in April indicated that average rents in Northern Ireland had gone up by more than 10% in the year to January.

The Housing Executive told BBC News NI the number of people requiring temporary accommodation had been unprecedented in recent times.

“Costs for placements in non-standard accommodation (hotels and B&Bs) are affected by the size of the household being accommodated, their length of stay in temporary accommodation and factors such as rising costs for the accommodation we access, which has been exacerbated in recent times due to the cost of living crisis," a spokesperson said.

“Non-standard accommodation is only used in the absence of other suitable options and for as short a duration as possible.”

Bags of belongings
Martine Courtney says the process of repeated moves has been "harrowing" [BBC]

Living day-to-day out of a suitcase has taken its toll on Ms Courtney, who described communication from officials about her living arrangements, as poor.

“The process has been harrowing for me," she said.

"But I have to keep going because I need to provide somewhere for my kids."

Ms Courtney said the situation had left her feeling like a failure.

She said she wanted to secure a "stable home" for her family.

"Some days I am stronger than others," she said.

"I know that there's a housing crisis going on.

“It has really affected my mental health.

"I didn’t ask to go into this process and from the very start, I already felt like a failure, I already felt I had failed my kids."