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Like most young mothers, Shauna wants what's best for her family... but for the past five years, they've no place to call home

Aspiring actress has been living in cramped hostels with two sons

By Cate McCurry

Published 12/11/2016

Shauna Laws at Moyard House
Shauna Laws at Moyard House
Shauna Laws at Moyard House

A mother-of-two who has dreams of becoming an actress and going to university harbours a painful secret... she has been homeless for over five years.

Shauna Lawson has been forced to raise her young sons in cramped conditions in three different hostels - one of which was used to house people suffering from psychological problems.

The Co Londonderry woman (32) said her goal in life is to have a permanent place to live where she calls home and where her sons, Brandon (11) and eight-year-old Cameron can live in a safe, secure environment.

Shauna, a single parent, was living in private rented accommodation when she lost her job in 2011 and couldn't afford to pay the rent.

Just days before Christmas, the family took down the Christmas tree, packed up some of their belongings and moved into a Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) hostel where they lived for over two years.

Despite their desperate situation, the family are not on the waiting list for a council house and face the grim reality of possibly never having a place to call home.

According to the NIHE website, homelessness does not just describe people living on the streets.

It can happen to anyone and includes people staying with friends or family, living in a hostel, in overcrowded conditions or who are at risk of violence.

Speaking from her hostel - also known as a family centre - in west Belfast where she has lived for six months, the aspiring actress said she tries to keep family-life "as normal as possible".

"It's very difficult living in a place we can never make a home. I try to shelter the two boys and to keep a normal, active family life," she said.

"But it's not normal and you are made to feel as if you are not a part of the community.

"People assume and judge, they think there is something wrong with me.

"There's a stigma attached to homelessness and people believe that I have created this situation."

Her youngest son, Cameron, has been living in hostels since the age of three and is so accustomed to the lifestyle that he only recently became aware that he has no home.

The primary school pupil is now taking part in a campaign for Homeless Awareness Week which takes place later this month.

To qualify for a council home, applicants have to be awarded a total of 200 points which is calculated depending on a person's circumstances.

"I only have 147 points so I'm nowhere near the waiting list for a council house. I've accepted that I will never get a house.

"The problem is they aren't building the houses, there's people who can't move up the scale as there's others who are classed more in need.

"I never had anyone who could take me in so I lost out on points there too.

"The points system is failing because I'm still homeless after five years and nowhere near the waiting list."

Residents living in the hostel - which is run by Ark Housing - have to abide by a number of rules which includes visitors having to leave by 10.30pm.

"I've had one person visiting me in the last six months. But the facilities here are good compared to Derry, I was only moved on after I was being harassed and intimidated by a neighbour."

After becoming homeless, Shauna turned to acting as a hobby and to escape reality.

She has since appeared in television shows, theatre and music videos and now has plans to go to Queen's University to do film studies.

"I want to make something of myself and for the kids.

"But I also want a permanent house, a place we could call home.

"I could start doing the things people take for granted."

Belfast Telegraph

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