Mum of nine girls in race against time to find new home cries herself to sleep with worry
A mother of nine girls has told of her fear that her family will soon be made homeless because she cannot find a house big enough for them.
Full-time mum and grandmother Joanne Heaney (32) is now issuing an emotional appeal in her search for a property large enough to house her girls who range in age from six months to 15 years.
She and her husband have been renting a house in Ballyclare for nearly five years but her landlord has decided to sell the property and she now fears being turned out on the street.
Joanne said her frantic searches for a home large enough to fit 12, including a baby granddaughter born at Christmas to her eldest, has so far been fruitless.
The large family was given four weeks' notice in August, which meant they should have vacated the property by September 3.
She said she has had to bear the harsh judgment of others over her domestic situation, plus "unfair" treatment of estate agents who, she believes, have written off her family due to its size.
The stressed-out mother said that not only can her family afford to pay its way, as her husband works full-time, she has also raised a respectable family including Julie (15), Sophie (13), Keely (8), six-year-old Faith, Summer, who is five, four-year-old Bethany, Aleesha, who is two-and-a-half, one-and-a-half-year-old Amelia and six-month-old Serena. Her new granddaughter, Nevaeh-Kenzie, is approaching two weeks old.
"We have enough to pay rent and to pay for a first month's deposit and have references available too; we just need a house big enough," she said.
"We've looked at so many properties since we were given notice but we just can't find anything big enough."
The couple are unfortunately unable to secure a mortgage to purchase their own home.
The landlord, who declined to be named, said he needed to sell the property for financial reasons, stating he had offered to sell it to the family at a discounted price.
He said he had no complaints whatsoever about the family, nor had he ever received complaints about them, and that though he had sympathy for their plight, the property had simply become a financial burden he could no longer bear.
Joanne said her attempts to secure a house through a number of housing associations, including the Housing Executive, have also been without success, apart from the offer of hostel accommodation which she said was unsuitable.
"We need to be put out first to qualify as homeless and the hostel wouldn't be able to fit us all and they'd have to split us up and the young ones can't fend for themselves," she said.
"They said they can't put us in a four-bedroom house and let the girls share, for health and safety reasons.
"There are four bedroom houses out there with two or three reception rooms and I don't know why they won't let us convert them into bedrooms," she continued.
She said her frequent visits to local estate agents had so far come up with nothing.
"We have been looking at a lot of properties and every time we apply for a house it costs between £35 and £60 and then you view them and get turned down.
"We're wasting money and still haven't got a roof over our heads."
Joanne estimated that she had already paid between £300 and £400 in wasted applications.
"You see a property in the paper or something and you contact an agent and 30 seconds later you hear it's been let. I thought landlords had to take a few applications and then decide."
She said she did feel she was "not being treated fairly" and has been left upset by unhelpful comments about the number of children she has.
"Some agents have just told us 'no landlord is going to house you and nine kids' and have told us we're wasting our time coming to them," she said.
She said local politicians have been "very supportive" so far.
Joanne said a recent appeal on a social media site prompted "disgraceful" comments from some people.
This comes in the wake of a family of three in Rathfriland who were made homeless just before Christmas due to a fire.
A fundraising drive to help support the Peden family, left with nothing as a result of the blaze, has helped raise over £12,000. The Heaneys, however, are not appealing for money, just a house big enough to keep a roof over their heads.
"But that's nothing to do with the issue, it's about if we are going to end up on the streets," she said.
"It shouldn't matter how many children we have, I rear my own children and they're well looked after and they are respectable; it's not like they are going to wreck someone's house.
"I'm in bed crying myself to sleep every night, thinking where on earth are we going to go if we can't find a house."
A spokesperson from the Housing Executive said "unfortunately suitable accommodation in the area in which they would like to live is limited".
"However, we will continue to work with the family to source suitable accommodation and we would encourage them to contact our local office to discuss their housing opportunities."
- Anyone who can help the Heaney family can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.