Tag Archives: Rosi Leonard

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From top: A family fun event held outside the Mountjoy Street eviction in February 2016; Rosi Leonard outside Apollo House earlier this year

Last night.

TV3 broadcast Inside Apollo House, a documentary about the occupation of Apollo House in Dublin by activists, artists, trade unions – to offer shelter to homeless people.

Further to this…

Rosi Leonard, of Home Sweet Home and the Irish Housing Network, writes:

The 750 people who crossed the threshold of Apollo to volunteer their time serve as a testament to the power of self-organising against the housing crisis. The networks, connections and communities that made it possible did not spring up overnight; they mostly born from direct experiences of homelessness and austerity.

Many community-led housing support groups have been running over the past years, spaces where people can get advice on their rights and what services are available to them. North Dublin Bay Housing Crisis Committee, Dublin Central Housing Action, Dublin Tenants Association, Wexford Housing Action, Housing Action Kildare and Dublin 8 Housing Action are just a few of the groups who have run support groups of this kind.

It has often been from these support groups that direct action has come, as through this form of support people can, without fear, have their voices and concerns heard. It has been from these spaces that much of the grassroots resistance to the housing crisis has come from.

Numerous actions emerged from these support groups over the last 18 months. The issues that spurred people into action were the same: evictions without suitable alternatives, and the poor, unpredictable standard of accommodation.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the largest Dublin based anti-eviction action in recent years when families resisted the closure of a privately-run emergency accommodation centre for 10 days.

The E13 families, as they called themselves, were a group of 13 families living in the emergency accommodation on Mountjoy Street. In February 2016, the owner of the building on Mountjoy Street informed Dublin City Council that he would be raising the rent on the property Dublin City Council were using to provide emergency accommodation.

Dublin City Council responded by informing residents the centre would shut in a week and that they would be moved to different hotels, many of which were even more cramped, and further away from their children’s schools and their home communities.

A major block to families in the hostel supporting each other was a lack of any communal facilities, children’s play areas and a ban enforced by management on residents being in each others room, even by invitation.

As the date of the hostel’s closure grew closer, the residents met outside and began to form the simple demand that would not leave Mountjoy Street without the guarantee of safe, suitable and secure accommodation.

One of the families was already linked in with North Dublin Bay’s support groups and reached out for support. Families door knocked the area with local residents who had been involved in the Bolt Hostel action, a formerly vacant DCC hostel re-opened by activists in 2015.

The Bolt as it became known, was open for three weeks before a court injunction forced activists to leave. But many of the groups involved stayed in contact through the Irish Housing Network and worked together to support the families in Mountjoy Street.

The campaign to support the families was visible with neighbours putting posters in their window and local groups, including the Grangegorman squat, holding family-fun days outside the property, with local businesses donating food.

“The support from the community was so important,” says Aisling Kenny, one the families who resisted the eviction. “It made me feel like I wasn’t just fighting my own fight.”

In the end, the families won their demand for more suitable accommodation, and many of these families are now in permanent council accommodation.

Over the summer of 2016, weekly sit-ins of Dublin City Council’s offices were common with families demanding more suitable and secure housing and winning victories on major issues that were affecting them daily in emergency accommodation.

Lack of cooking facilities or access to hotel restaurants is a major health risk to children and families in emergency accommodation. Families successfully fought to prove the food boxes council were providing were unfit for the dietary needs of a child and secured food vouchers through these meetings, as well as many people having their individual needs met.

State or charity support for people in housing difficulty can be irregular with unclear guidelines in place, a fact which can leave people incredibly vulnerable.

In July 2016, a family were evicted from the Regency Hotel after they reported the level of mould in their room was causing their children severe respiratory problems. So many homeless families were being accommodated in that hotel that it had its own key worker (a support worker usually appointed by homeless charities) appointed to it – a fact that is not uncommon in hotels around Dublin.

When the family were evicted, the key worker informed them he was no longer appointed to their case and they were left without information, support or a bed for the night.

In this case it was a link between other residents in the hotel and outside community support groups that enabled the family to get help and stage a sleep-out outside the hotel in protest of their treatment, as well as advocate with the family in Dublin City Council to secure alternative accommodation.

A similar case followed when Lynam’s Hotel based on O’Connell street went into receivership. NAMA and Grant Thornton, the receivers appointed to the building stated that it had to close and would be re-sold, again leaving homeless families who were living there in limbo.

As one resident recalls, support groups and collective action was the most effective way they could protect their families :

“I was told to find alternative accommodation by DCC due to refurbishments, later to be told the hotel was in receivership. I contacted the Irish Housing Network for guidance and support as there was none offered by DCC. We then decided to have a meeting with all the families currently at Lynam’s to discuss what options we had and what we could to do to find alternative accommodation.”

“After numerous meetings at Park Gate St homeless services and Dublin City Council the families decided action needed to be taken before we ended up on the streets with our children. We set a list of simple demands that included having facilities in our accommodation like cooking and laundry facilities.”

Pressure was applied to NAMA to use this hotel – not for more private development – but as opportunity to exercise its social responsibility clause and hand it over to the Government for the provision of housing.

Families staged a sit-in in Grant Thornton offices and a march to NAMA headquarters, and when the date to leave came, the receiver was offering deals between council and residents, rather than face a stand-off that would see him held responsible for the eviction of homeless families.

The stories above are just a glimpse of a struggle which almost every community in Ireland has witnessed.

There are many more examples such as the successful defence of a family evicted from Catherines’ Gate, Dublin 8 in December, 2015, who were evicted by private management when they were 20c short of making up a gas bill and assaulted when they complained.

Months later, people living in the Bru Hostel successfully resisted its closure on the grounds that the loss of 101 beds for homeless individuals, at a time when more and more people were being left with nowhere to go, would very likely result in deaths.

One of the women living in the Bru, and influential in keeping it open through a sit-in and march on Dublin City Council, Carrie Hennessey, would later be one of the key figures of the Apollo House occupation.

Many people who experienced the direct provision system and occupied a centre in Cork in 2010 in protest of the racist treatment and prison-like conditions they endured there also lent their support to Apollo House.

Dignity, empowerment and care were the messages constantly pushed by people living and volunteering inside Apollo.

Taken as both a process and a demand, they cut through the Government’s current attitude that the housing crisis is an administrative difficulty they inherited and are now struggling to resolve.

It is no mystery that a lack of tenants’ rights, social housing and community services are forcing families to sleep in their cars and people to sleep and die in doorways for lack of a home.

The more we can support and empower the voices of people affected by the crisis, the more we can build strong solidarity to ensure the suffering and abuse witnessed in previous years never happens again.

Watch Inside Apollo House here

Previously: Common Sense, Love And Respect

Irish Housing Network


Rosi Leonard, of Home Sweet Home and the Irish Housing Network

This afternoon.

Sr Stanislaus Kennedy spoke to Ray D’Arcy on RTÉ Radio One.

During the interview they discussed the occupation of Apollo House.

At one point, Rosi Leonard, of the Irish Housing Network and Home Sweet Home campaign, joined the show by phone.

From their discussion:

Ray D’Arcy (to Rosi Leonard): “You’ve definitely got more coverage for the homelessness situation in Ireland, than anybody else has in a long time. What’s the end game?… Or what’s the end game?”

Rosi Leonard: “The end game, the long game, is that we end this housing crisis. And that’s beyond Apollo House, that’s the intention of Home Sweet Home, it’s the intention of the Irish Housing Network. The current game… I mean Apollo House should never have to be the answer. But Apollo House is a massive, vacant building – one of thousands – in our country. And it was a very practical intervention. It was very much an intervention to ensure dignity. And we created a standard in Apollo House that now Government are saying that they can’t do. And we’re a group of volunteers who did it in three weeks. It was more out of common sense and love and respect to the community, that we created those standards. Not any of this bureaucratic nonsense that they keep throwing back at us.”

“The short-term goal is that the people of Apollo House are housing in suitable conditions and that they see this, the Government see that they cannot disrespect and disempower people. People are empowered now, they have a voice. And we want that to continue.”

D’Arcy: “We’ve been talking to Sr Stan for the last half an hour or so and we mentioned that she’s been working with the homeless for the last, over 50 years. Sr Stan, would you like to say anything to Rosi there?”

Sr Stanislaus Kennedy: “Well, I think the aim is laudable, to end the housing crisis. Because it is a scandal. However, I think, I would prefer to see them stick, do it within the law. And I would encourage them to do that, do it within the law.”

Leonard: “But how many times has Government defied the law by letting people die on our streets? I mean that’s really what this comes down to. We talk about the law and yet, where are we prosecuting Minister Simon Coveney for not doing anything about the housing crisis that is now seeing 60 families every month living in a hotel.”

I have met children, through the Irish Housing Network, who are six years old, being treated for depression because of the way they feel in these hotels, the way they see their lives panning out. And all I would say to that, is that we need to actually look at ourselves now as a country and say what are we willing to accept because right now it seems that we are willing to roll over.”

Kennedy: “No, I know all that. I think we’ve been on record several times talking about the situation of families, and particularly children – the 2,500 children – who are in emergency accommodation at this moment. All I’m saying is, I would prefer to work within the law. Keep at it but I think your campaign has drawn attention to it and well done on that.”

Listen back in full here


A skeletal timeline on various recent campaigns to end homelessness in Ireland…

July 1998: Sr Stanislaus Kennedy writes a letter to The Irish Times saying an unprecedented Exchequer surplus of over 1.2 billion pounds, announced a week previous, could enable the State to end homelessness. She said in 1997, 877 people under the age of 18 used the services of Focus Ireland – up from 352 in 1994.

July, 2001: A three-year plan to end homelessness in Cork is announced. The strategy is called Homelessness – An Integrated Strategy for Cork 2001-2003 and the Southern Health Board announces that 600,000 pounds will be distributed to different voluntary organisations, including Cork Simon Community, St Vincent de Paul and Good Shepherd Services. It’s reported that up 350 homeless people seek shelter in Cork city every night while up to 20 sleep rough.

2002: The official homeless figure in Ireland is recorded as being 5,581.

October 2003: It’s reported that begging and street drinking in Dublin city centre has almost been eradicated as a result of a programme in place since July – operated by Dublin City Council, gardaí and the health services.

It’s reported:

“Parnell Square to St Stephen’s Green has been designated a ‘public domain zone’ as part of the programme. As well as 2,800 arrests in the area, including 70 for begging, there has been a programme to help people access accommodation, health services and addiction treatments.”

An Independent Dublin City Councillor, Ger Dorgan, is reported as saying the initiative was an attempt by the council to “sanitise” Dublin city in advance of Ireland hosting the European presidency in 2004.

February 2004: At the Simon (Community) National Conference in Dublin, the director of the six Simon Communities in Ireland, Conor Hickey, says Ireland is poised to “make a real breakthrough in the fight to end homelessness”.

He says if if the annual bonus on the Special Savings Incentive Accounts (SSIA) scheme was reduced from 25 per cent to 24 per cent €21million more would be available to the Exchequer and could be used to end homelessness.

May 2004: The Cork Simon Community AGM is told more than 100 people, between the age of 16 and 25, are homeless in Cork while, in total, 500 people are homeless.

The charity launches a €21million four-year action plan and pledges to raise more than €7million from its own fundraising activities to go towards the cost of the plan.

December 2005: It’s reported that the government is more than 20,000 social housing units short of its social housing target set out in the National Development Plan; and that it has yet to respond to the National Economic and Social Council recommendation that 10,000 – 12,000 social housing units should be made available between now and 2012.

June 2006: Simon Community Ireland launches its three-year strategic plan, Ending Homelessness, Creating Homes. In an article in The Irish Times, Anne Connolly, chair of the Simon Community of Ireland, writes:

“Simon estimates that the provision of high-quality accommodation in the private rented sector – with a support worker – would cost €12,000 in a year. The average cost of hospital psychiatric care is €120,000 a year. To provide the same person with supported housing in a community environment would cost €40,000.”

Ms Connolly is also reported as saying that, while Simon did not have any official data or figures, it has seen an increase in the number of individuals from Poland, Lithuania and Latvia sleeping rough.

October 2006: Focus Ireland, the Simon Communities, the Society of St Vincent de Paul and Threshold launch their Make Room campaign, calling on the Government to end homelessness by 2010.

They also call for the provision of 10,000 social and affordable housing units every year to 2010 and €2 billion being put into the National Development Plan.

January 2007: It’s reported that there are 6,000 homeless people across Ireland with 80 per cent of these people living in Dublin.

Vincent Browne, Brian Ormond, Caroline Morahan, and Eamonn and Brian Fallon, of daft.ie, lend their support for the Make Room campaign, urging members of the public to sign an online petition.

February 2007: Ahead of the general election in May, the leader of the Labour Party Pat Rabbitte says, in a pre-election speech:

“When we build houses we must also build sustainable communities. My firm commitment for change is Labour’s new ‘begin to buy’ scheme for affordable homes in good neighbourhoods.”

“We will also legislate to protect the consumer rights of home buyers, to regulate management companies and estate agents, and to control management charges. We will end homelessness and reform the planning system to better serve communities.”

May 2007: General election takes place with Fianna Fáil returning 77 seats (down 4); Fine Gael 51 (up 20); Labour 20 (no change); Green Party 6 (no change); Sinn Fein 4 (down 1) the Progressive Democrats 2 (down 6).

June 2007: A Fianna Fáil, Green Party and Progressive Democrats majority coalition government – supported by four Independent TDs – is formed.

July 2007: The charities behind the Make Room campaign call on the parties in the newly formed Government to honour their pre-election pledge to end homelessness by 2010.

October 2007: In a pre-Budget submission to the Minister for Finance Brian Cowen, the Simon Communities of Ireland calls on the Government to increase its funding for services for homeless people by 5 per cent and invest €2.5billion in new social housing units over 2008. This does not happen.

December 2007: In its annual review for 2006, the Simon Communities of Ireland said 55 people, who used Simon’s services in 2006, had died.

The average age of those who died was 42. Of the 55 who died, 25 died in Cork, four in Dundalk, eight in Galway and 18 in Dublin. The general cause of death was “ill health”.

August 2008: The Government announces a four-year strategy to end long-term homelessness, called The Way Home: A Strategy to Address Adult Homelessness in Ireland 2008-2013.

The 83-page document emphasises the use of private-rented accommodation over emergency hostel beds.

Housing Minister Michael Finneran vows that, by 2010, no homeless person will be sleeping rough or staying in emergency accommodation for more than six months.

It’s also reported:

“About 40 key services for homeless people which were due to come on stream this year have been shelved due to a funding freeze (at €33million, same as 2007) imposed by the Health Service Executive (HSE).

“Homeless agencies in Dublin and Cork say they are turning away dozens of homeless people as a result of their emergency beds being used to capacity.”

In addition, it’s reported that an implementation plan [including in regards to funding], to accompany the strategy, may not be ready “for some months’.

It’s reported that around 5,000 people in Ireland are homeless, 43,000 households are on local authority housing lists and 36,000 children live in families on social housing waiting lists.

October 2008: Simon Communities of Ireland claims that, in Dublin alone, there are 10,000 unsold private units, almost half of which have two bedrooms, and calls on the Government to buy some of these properties in order to provide accommodation for homeless people.

September 2010: It’s reported that the number of people sleeping rough and using emergency homeless services in Dublin has risen by 20 per cent over the past 18 months – from 812 people per month in 2009 to 908 per month, during the second quarter, in 2010.

December 2010: As the Government fails to reach its goal of ending long-term homeless by 2010, Kerry Anthony, of DePaul Ireland, is reported as saying:

I’ve been saying for some time now that I don’t think we really understand the full impact the recession is going to have on homelessness.”

The figures haven’t fluctuated much to date but we know there are an awful lot of people defaulting on their mortgage repayments, we know about 90,000 people are defaulting on electric payments and 23,000 on their gas payments.”

February 2011: General election takes place with Fine Gael taking 76 seats (up 25); Labour 37 (up 17); Fianna Fáil 20 (down 57); Sinn Fein 14 (up 10), Socialist Party 2 (up 2); People Before Profit 2 (up 2); Workers and Unemployed Action 1 (up 1); Green Party 2 (down 6). Fine Gael and Labour formed a coalition government.

February 2013: The Government sets 2016 as the target for ending long-term homelessness.

The Irish Independent reports:

The Government has vowed to eradicate long-term homelessness by the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

“The strategy will revolve around property leasing rather than purchases, access to NAMA housing stock and fast-tracking homeless people from emergency shelters to special transitional housing.”

“Housing Minister Jan O”Sullivan defended the new strategy and its 2016 target as achievable despite the fact the former Fianna Fail-led government failed to deliver the same target with greater resources by 2011.”

Previously: Chain Reaction

Leah Farrell/Rollingnews