Belfast Boy shares story of homelessness on World Book Day

10-year-old is one of 20 children living in emergency accommodation and direct provision who have shared their lockdown stories in a new book, Homeless Stories.

As children across Northern Ireland prepare to dress up as their favourite fictional characters for World Book Day, (March 04), one brave Belfast boy is using the occasion to tell his own story of homelessness during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Dylan Whelan (10), who lives in one of Belfast’s hostels with his Mum Rachel (28) and his little sister Leah (1), penned the piece for the book Homeless Stories, a collection of stories published by Irish company Emu Ink which is currently enrolled with Ulster Bank’s Entrepreneur Accelerator programme.

In ‘Homeless Stories,’ children aged 5-13, share their own personal and moving accounts of life in emergency accommodation and direct provision during the Covid crisis. All proceeds from the sale of the book will go to Depaul’s Families and Young People’s support services.

Depaul provides vital accommodation and community supports for vulnerable families who are experiencing or are at risk of homelessness in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland.

One such recipient of that support is Dylan, who wrote about his experience of living in emergency accommodation with his mum and little sister during the Covid-19 lockdown. After one-and-a-half years living in a hostel they still have no idea where they are on the housing list or when they will be housed.

Speaking about how it feels to be homeless in a pandemic, Dylan said, “At first, I felt sad and angry – and then bored because I can’t play outside, we don’t have anywhere to play outside, and I didn’t want to stay here.

Dylan added, “I have two wishes – for Coronavirus be gone and for us to have a new house. I want to be close to my friends so I can play with them.”

Dylan’s Mum, Rachel said that the writing experience has been a positive one for him in a very difficult time.

She said, “Dylan tends to keep his feelings to himself so when I try to ask him how he feels he just asks why I am asking so many questions! With the book though, he really loved writing. He is very creative and suddenly he was opening up – that really helped me to understand how he felt.

“It helped us both in different ways.”

Founder and CEO of Emu Ink, Emer Cleary, who has been supported by Ulster Bank through a place on the bank’s entrepreneur accelerator programme said, “We are so proud of Dylan and all of the children in Homeless Stories. It is so important to give children like Dylan a voice this year because families like his have had a very different experience to the rest of us. I’m sure many of us are growing tired of staying at home but for these children, a home to stay in is all they want – a front door, a back garden to play in, a kitchen to bake in like their friends.

“At Emu Ink, we’re firm believers in giving children the opportunity and the tools to tell their own stories in their own words. By becoming published authors, children can learn that their stories are important, their words are impactful, and they don’t have to wait until they grow up to be heard.

“For the children in this book, they are waiting for things that the rest of us probably take for granted. Thanks to the support given to me through the Ulster Bank Entrepreneur Accelerator I have been able to use Emu Ink to give children like Dylan a platform to tell his story. It’s wonderful to give him this opportunity and to be able to donate all the proceeds from the sale of the book to Depaul’s Families and Young People’s support services.”

David Carroll, CEO of Depaul said: “As one of the largest homeless charities on the island of Ireland, Depaul have been supporting over 600 children during the pandemic. To have 20 of those children become published authors thanks to Emu Ink, that feels like an enormous positive we can take from this difficult time.

“It is a moving and poignant read but it is also filled with hope that one day they will have a safe place to call home, because for families living in emergency accommodation and direct provision they are going through very difficult times and the pandemic has only added to this.

“We are so grateful to all the children who generously shared their stories, and to Emu Ink for publishing ‘Homeless Stories’ and coordinating the project. The proceeds from the sale of the book will help Depaul support families and young people at a difficult time in their lives.”

Every child who wrote a story or illustrated a piece for the book received a special goody bag from Emu Ink, with treats from Starbucks and  The Irish Fairy Door Company, who generously supported the project.

Starbucks provided treats and vouchers for family days out. In addition to Emu Ink’s investment in the project, Starbucks has also funded the printing of the book to allow all proceeds to go to Depaul.

The Irish Fairy Door Company donated a ‘No More Worries Kit’, to help ease anxieties, and a fairy door to every child, so they might feel less alone in their temporary home and take the fairy with them when they leave.

Homeless Stories is on sale for €12 at:

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