Northern Ireland news

More than 20,000 children on housing waiting list in Northern Ireland

Shimous (10), Basel (7) and their mother Tawsul Aidaroos. Picture by Mal McCann

THERE are at least 20,950 children on the housing waiting list in Northern Ireland, of which 13,636 are deemed to be living in 'housing stress' - either temporary or unfit accommodation.

Among the thousands of children currently in temporary accommodation is 10-year-old Shimous Aidaroos, who has lived in five different locations in the last two years while her family wait for a permanent home.

She is one of four children who feature in the documentary Waiting on a Childhood, which will get its first screening tonight as part of Féile an Phobail.

Families in housing stress are typically in emergency accommodation such as single-parent hostels, sharing accommodation with relatives or in some cases 'sofa surfing', moving around on a nightly basis.

Figures on homeless children are not routinely collated but were gathered by Participation and the Practice of Rights, a campaign group who work with families in severe housing need.

The Commissioner for Children and Young People, Koulla Yiasouma, and the United Nations have previously expressed concern about the rates of child homelessness in the north.

Shimous is living in temporary accommodation in the Cliftonville area of north Belfast with her seven-year-old brother Basel and parents Tawsul and Imaderdin Aidaroos.

Both parents are IT engineers, who were forced to flee their home in Sudan due to political persecution and have been granted refugee status in Northern Ireland.

Shimous's mum said since arriving in Northern Ireland, and despite having 10 years' experience and a Masters degree, the only jobs she has been offered are low-paid entry level positions, with wages that will not cover the 'extortionate' rent on hostel accommodation and childcare costs.

"The one job I did get wanted me to work shifts and I'd no-one to mind the children. I want to work but it seems strange that people are being financially penalised for going to work."

The family, who have a 120 points on the housing list, have been told they'll need at least 160 to be housed anywhere in north Belfast.

"The children have had to move schools and I've now settled them in a school they like and where they are doing well. We'd like to stay in north Belfast so they don't have to move again," Mrs Aidaroos said.

"Being in temporary accommodation is unsettling, we never know when we might have to move, you can't make improvements or make it a home for the children.

"Shimous is very academic, very smart, she wants to do well at school. Basel is into sports and wants to play and make friends. I just want my children to be settled and have some stability, a safe place they can call home."

Campaigners from Homes Now and Equality Can't Wait worked with children and families on the housing waiting list to make the documentary, with the children interviewing senior public figures as part of the film.

Waiting on a Childhood will be launched in Conway Mill in west Belfast at 7pm tonight. Organisers say as it is not a ticketed event, early arrival is advised.

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