Imagine being cold all the time. Imagine being constantly sick and worried about bills. Imagine the stress of moving house again and again, in the vain hope that things might improve. Imagine the loneliness of battling against it all on your own. Mary Stephens doesn’t have to imagine. This was her life.
By 2013, Mary Stephens had been on the housing waiting list for eight years. Her life was a succession of moves from one cold, cramped bedsit to the next. She lived in the vain hope that every move would be the ‘right’ one. It never was. Everywhere she went brought its own problems. Most places were cold, damp and impossible to heat. In fact, one block of flats where Mary lived at one stage was eventually closed down because of dampness. She never had enough space. The locations were unsuitable. She felt isolated and lonely all the time. Added to all that misery was a further complication – Mary was unwell.
She was diagnosed 12 years ago with a kidney disorder, hydronephrosis. The condition means she has reduced kidney function and needs regular hospital treatment. Commuting the 11 miles from her last location in Claregalway to the hospital was a nightmare.
But, even apart from the difficult commute, Mary’s life had become a vicious circle of illness and despair. Living in cold, damp apartments was starting to seriously compromise her health. She was constantly cold but had to scrimp on heating because the cost was so high. In turn, she got one kidney infection after the next and was almost always on antibiotics. After eight years of waiting and moving, she was completely worn down by the challenge of it all. In her own words, she was exhausted.
And then along came Clúid.
In November 2013, Mary moved into Clúid’s newest housing scheme in Galway. She now lives in a two-bed apartment five minutes from the hospital and her life has totally changed.
“At long last I have no more moving to think about,” she beams. “I am so happy with the standard of this apartment. It is so spacious, safe and warm. This is the first winter I haven’t got a kidney infection.”
Most importantly for Mary, though, is the fact that the comfort and warmth she now enjoys is affordable. She talks about getting her first ESB bill in her new home. “I thought it was a mistake,” she says. “It was practically nothing compared to what I would use in the other flats and they were still cold.”
Mary heard about Clúid from her local TD, Noel Grealish, and she is very grateful to him for his help and advice. “He said I would be extremely happy with Clúid,” she says,”– that they’re a really good group of people.”
Happily, the Clúid personnel Mary dealt with are living up to that reputation. She speaks highly of Ben, the Housing Officer and Brendan, the Housing Manager. “You’re left waiting for nothing and you’re not dismissed,” she says. “You’re left feeling as if you’re important to them,” she adds.
The respect and understanding shown to Mary by everyone she has dealt with is
important to her. “Because you’re sick, it’s not nice to be classed as just a social welfare recipient. You’re so sick and it’s not fair to be classed as not working…
All the years I did work, at least I have something to show for it.”
But it’s not just the basics of physical well-being that Mary appreciates in her new home. As a person living alone, she loves the sense of community and the comfort of having neighbours.
“There’s a great sense of security in knowing there are other people around,” she says. “You can live securely on your own because there are people in other apartments. I know I can go to any of the neighbours and I know there is someone there if I’m very sick.”
And there are other benefits that were, perhaps, unexpected but nonetheless very welcome. Not only has Mary a spacious new home. She has a scenic view from her windows. In her previous apartment, she was looking out at a brick wall. Anyone would appreciate a beautiful view, but, for Mary, an upcoming artist, it’s a real bonus.
“Painting is my big hobby,” she tells me. “It’s the main thing I occupy my life with. If I did nothing else for the rest of my life, I would just paint this view.”
In every sense, the view has improved dramatically for Mary. Her new home, she says, has given her life a complete boost. “I’m so proud to invite people over,” she says. It makes her feel good about herself, she says, that people are commenting on how nice her home is and how well she keeps it. “It motivates me to keep it that way,” she says. When people come to visit her, they ask her if she realises how lucky she is to have such a lovely home. After eight years of moving, waiting, fretting and worrying, her answer to that question is a heartfelt “I certainly do.”