From top: People arrive to donate items at Apollo House on Tuesday night; gardaí also arrive at the building on Tuesday evening; and Dr Rory Hearne
Lawyers for the receivers of Apollo House, Mazars, will bring their case to the High Court at 10.30am. It follows Mazars serving injunction papers on the occupants yesterday [Tuesday] to leave the building.
Further to this…
Dr Rory Hearne, at Apollo House, writes:
The most inspiring and radical direct action taken, so far, to end the worsening homelessness crisis in Ireland – which is now a humanitarian crisis – has been the occupation of Apollo House in Dublin and its conversion into homeless accommodation. But, the occupation urgently needs your help.
Yesterday [Tuesday] I went inside Apollo and saw first-hand the incredible achievement of this citizens’ ‘civil disobedience’ that is now providing a volunteer self-organised home for 35 homeless people. Those homeless people would otherwise be sleeping on the wet and cold streets of Dublin.
However, just days before Christmas they, and the Home Sweet Home campaign, face eviction from their new temporary homes in occupied Apollo House.
Lawyers for the receivers of Apollo House served injunction papers yesterday [Tuesday] evening to the occupants to vacate the property and the case is to be heard in the High Court this morning [Wednesday morning]. The public is being asked by the Home Sweet Home campaign to support their protest at the court this morning.
The amazing transformation of Apollo House, in just a matter of days, from being an empty disused building to homeless accommodation (and a ground-breaking movement to end homelessness in Ireland) is an example of what ordinary people can achieve when they get together and work in community towards the common goal of social justice and solidarity.
I was in Apollo House on the first morning of the occupation last week, and while the building was functional it was quite bare – being made up of mainly empty offices. The housing campaigners who lead the occupation were determined but very apprehensive about how it all might go.
In just a few days the place has been transformed – with a kitchen set up, rooms for the homeless residents, a number of organising offices and a relaxing area for the residents – with TV, tables and eating area.
But the most inspiring and heartening aspect in Apollo house is the creation of a community of volunteers (of which there have been hundreds helping and thousands offering their help) who are giving up their time to make this homeless accommodation and citizens’ ‘act of defiance’ a success. The volunteers include electricians and maintenance workers from the trade unions, to doctors, nurses, social care workers, security workers, media experts (and media is a vital focus with Rosie Leonard of the Irish Housing Network playing a vital role here) and other volunteers providing cooking, cleaning, administration and other essential support.
There are also bags and bags, and boxes and boxes of food and other donations given in by the public – an entire floor of the building has been taken up by it. Also last night a packed public meeting was held in the Teachers’ Club, Dublin 1, with hundreds in attendance offering their support.
And it is this massive wave of public support that gives this occupation a real power that a court injunction or eviction attempt by gardaí will find hard to stop.
This is because the campaign has won the hearts and minds of the Irish people. There is majority public support for the occupation as RTÉ’s Clare Byrne opinion poll showed that 75 per cent of the public support the occupation of NAMA-controlled office blocks to house the homeless.
And the reason why it has received such public support is because the objective of the Home Sweet Home occupation is urgent, practical, and yet also profound. It is urgent, as Aisling Hedderman, one of the coordinators of the occupation and an activist with the Irish Housing Network explained, because it is “about saving lives”.
And it is a practical solution to the crisis. Aisling said: “It is a practical way in which ordinary people can show their solidarity with the homeless”.
It is also profound, unique and powerful because it is an unlikely and innovative alliance of high profile musicians, housing activists and trade unionists. The support and involvement from the outset by much-loved Irish musicians and high profile ‘celebrities’ including Glen Hansard, Christy Moore, Damien Dempsey, Hozier, and Jim Sheridan has given it a positive media profile and wide public appeal.
But, most importantly, as Aisling explains, at its heart are the hundreds of people supporting through volunteering and donating who are from a cross-section alliance of Irish society – with volunteers from working class and professional backgrounds working together – and business people donating and trade union workers helping to fix up the building.
I saw in Apollo a very impressive level of structure and organisation. It is a huge task of co-ordination to make emergency accommodation run on a voluntary basis to work. That they have done it in just a few stays is testament to the capacity and ability of ordinary people to achieve real change.
Volunteers are divided up into different teams such as outreach, support, and media – with everyone being given a role and a responsibility – and the homeless residents being empowered to be involved as well.
I sat in on one meeting where a team planned the practical support service for the homeless residents. These were people from different backgrounds – including professionals who have worked with people sleeping rough and it also people who were formerly homeless or suffered addictions themselves and wanted to offer support for those now affected.
In that meeting alone, there were 20 or so people there – all giving up their own time – to try make things betters for others.
This is what makes it different from the ‘usual’ left activist campaign. It is very different from marching in the streets. Here, in Apollo, people can see the change happening in front of their eyes that they are achieving.
It is similar to the broad societal coalition that made the water movement such a success (and involves some its key co-ordinators such as Brendan Ogle and the Unite Trade Union, David Gibney from Mandate along with artist, producer and activist Dean Scurry) but this campaign extends even further into the hearts of middle Ireland, people who want an Ireland of social justice and where the vulnerable are cared for – not left to die on our streets.
Niamh McDonald, one of the coordinators and activists with Irish Housing Network, accurately explained the purpose of the occupation.
She said: “It exposes the government’s inadequate response to the homelessness crisis and the way in which through NAMA they are putting profits and economic gain before the needs of our most vulnerable citizens”.
She also explained that it has received such public support because of the “frustration of the Irish people. The Irish people are frustrated with the lack of practical/workable solutions for people who are suffering the most. The people see the government prevaricating and promising policies but failing to deliver.”
Apollo House with its single rooms and its provision of a ‘home-like’ building for the homeless highlights the inadequacy of some of the existing multi-bed emergency accommodation in the city where there are issues of drugs, the lack of safety and lack of accommodation for couples.
As one activist explained to me – “the multi-bed (dormed) emergency accommodation treats homeless people worse than dogs. There is no dignity or decency in that. Here they are treated with dignity and respect – given their power to make choices – not treated like cattle put into a stall in a shed in Dublin city centre”.
The Apollo building is not due to be demolished for at least six months. It has been converted into an effective homeless accommodation. So there is no justification for evicting the tenants. It has been made safe – and is safer for the homeless than being on the streets. So why can’t the building be left to provide this much-needed accommodation? And where will these homeless people go if they are evicted? Back on the streets?
The reality is that the Government and Minister for Finance can direct NAMA to intervene and get the receivers to stop the injunction process. This is what should happen. The public need to see this and put the focus back onto the Government to change what NAMA is doing with its properties.
Rather than using them to build offices and penthouses for the wealthy, they should be used for affordable housing. This can be done if the government directs NAMA to do it. These are our public buildings, and there are many hundreds of them vacant across the city.
Even worse there are almost 200,000 vacant homes across the country. And the Government could, if it wanted, solve the housing crisis.
As Home Sweet Home stated tonight: “Dublin has 32,000 millionaires and the second highest rents in europe, seems like we must be doing pretty well. So, how then do we nationally have over 7,000 people and children in immediate need of housing with many more on waiting lists, we have people sleeping and dying on our streets, we have over 190,000 empty homes and we have tax breaks for the rich and crumbs for the rest.”
We know that the homeless on our streets are only the top of the iceberg of the housing crisis – with thousands of families, children and individuals sleeping in emergency accommodation, cars, tents, on couches, floors, and overcrowded houses and apartments, not to mention the tsunami of people who will become homeless as the tens of thousands in mortgage arrears are repossessed, and as people are evicted by landlords charging unaffordable rents.
So, it’s not just more emergency accommodation that is needed – but an immediate country-wide government programme of building tens of thousands of affordable, community and social housing.
It is clear to me that if there is an attempt to evict the occupants of Apollo house there will be a massive public backlash and uproar.
Apollo, and the public response to it, is evidence of a re-awakened spirit of the Irish people – after being beaten by bailouts, austerity and inequality – are now standing up for social justice. It has spread from the Right to Water to now – the movement for the right to housing and a home. People are leading where the Government has failed.
Rather than the closure of Apollo House – we should see its extension. We need more Apollo Houses – to show up the idiocy, injustice and immorality of a society where state owned buildings are being left empty and sold to vulture funds while citizens die on the streets because they do not have a home.
In the face of growing cynicism, of disgust with politics, of the rise in other countries of movements of hate, in an era of greed and individualism – the Apollo house occupation is a ray of light – of a community of hope and collective action emerging in our battered Republic.
Finally, support their call today to go to the High Court. They say: “Apollo House has through hard work created a massive community of people who stand against this crisis. Please support us outside the High Court from 10am”.
You can donate or volunteer through their Facebook page here
Previously: Live At The Apollo