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One Year After Apollo the Residents and Activists say Crisis is Getting Worse 17/12/17

Press Release 17/12/17
Irish Housing Network

Public support for Apollo House turned the building into a symbol of resistance to the housing crisis and its causes. For the first time in a long time, people could take meaningful, practical action against the State’s shocking disregard for public well-being. One year on, we would like to illustrate the situation now faced by those residents and activists as the housing crisis continues to worsen.

This time last year the Irish Housing Network were involved in the occupation of Apollo House. The building was taken over in a collective direct action by a combination of celebrities, trade unionists and the Irish Housing Network (IHN) with the intention of housing rough sleepers and those affected by homelessness over the Christmas period. Hundreds of people from all parts of society volunteered their time, expertise and experience to make this building a home for those who needed it. 205 people were given assistance accessing accommodation over the 27 days of the occupation with 40 residents, who would otherwise be homeless, living in Apollo House at any given time.

It was unfortunate that the then- Minister for Housing did not give any guarantees in writing that all residents would be housed in appropriate settings with the supports they needed. In trying to maintain contact with former residents it has become clear to us that many of the promises made were made in bad faith, and an attempt to quickly end what had become a very embarrassing situation for the government.

Simon Coveney promised to have all families out of private emergency accommodation by 1st July 2017. However, in October 2017, there were 1,463 families accessing emergency accommodation, which includes 3,194 children. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the master of spin, seems to think this is acceptable, stating, in November, that, “That is a good thing, in Ireland, we have a low level of homelessness compared to our peer countries.” This shows a shocking disconnect on behalf of the government with the impact homelessness is having on people’s lives. This out-of-touch attitude persists amongst senior civil servants tasked with tackling homelessness. Eileen Gleeson, director of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, said long-term homelessness resulting from years of “bad behaviour” cannot be solved by the efforts of “ad hoc” unauthorised groups. Homeless deaths continue to rise despite hundreds of dedicated volunteers out running soup-runs nightly. However, we agree with her that bad behaviour has contributed to this crisis in homelessness, but would assert that the bad behaviour in question has been carried out by successive governments who have made little or no investment in social housing while pouring public money into the pockets of landlords and developers.

Activists from IHN groups along with other unaffiliated activists continued to try to support resident’s post-occupation. Many activists joined up to their local IHN groups nationwide while others have been out on the streets nightly in cities all around the country setting up groups that deliver hot food, warm clothes and sleeping bags to rough sleepers. These people are doing essential work. The IHN groups organise anti-eviction training and housing workshops, contribute to tenant’s forums and offer housing and homeless advice and information at weekly support meetings for people in housing difficulty held in communities across the country. The IHN have helped people by taking or assisting with RTB cases, circuit court cases, directly fighting illegal evictions, advocacy with service providers, community organising and supporting people in emergency accommodation and direct provision to improve their situations. Many groups also compile an engagement log and report spikes in service users to the Dublin Regional Housing Executive and service providers. All groups are entirely run by volunteers and affected led. All of the money donated to Apollo House has been allocated to organisations who work directly with people affected by homelessness via the grant scheme. A full list of these organisations with details of all of their work will be released over the coming days in conjunction with the artists and unions who were involved in the occupation with us.
For the residents, life has not been easy. While a small few have seen improvements in their situations, one former resident has already died while sleeping on a Dublin street and many others have ended up back on the streets too. Despite the promises made by the Minister, many were never even appointed a key worker after they left Apollo. There has been a lot of anger in the year since they made Apollo House their home. Many feel let down, not just by the government, but by the people involved in organising the occupation of Apollo House. Some feel like they were used to make a political point and then dropped right back into the appalling situations they had tried to escape. The life of a homeless person in Ireland is brutal enough without the stress of being forcibly put out on the street while temperatures drop below freezing. The government has used the law as a blunt instrument to bludgeon the most vulnerable people in Irish society by entering into negotiations in bad faith and waiting for the Department of Justice to do their dirty work.

Frank, a resident at Apollo, said, “I was not entitled to social welfare because I’m not Irish. I lost my job and could no longer pay my rent. I am a recovering alcoholic and suffer from PTSD from living through a war in my country. I found it impossible to stay sober in the homeless hostels. It’s a catch 22 situation. If I prioritise my recovery, I can’t work full time, but if I want to get into a secure housing situation I need to work full-time. It’s a constant struggle. Once you find yourself in this situation it is very hard to find a way back out. Even when I’m doing well I know I am only one pay-cheque away from homelessness, and now again, a year after Apollo I might be facing homelessness for Christmas week with a HAP form in my hand. It feels like I’m never gonna find a home. I know that I am luckier than others. I’m still sober & alive. Thanks to someone watching over me and handful of good friends.”

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