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Dublin: 17 °C Thursday 22 June, 2017
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Apollo House occupation: The story behind how a well-organised team took over this Dublin building

Celebrities, activists and politicians all got together today to open accommodation for the homeless.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

JOURNALISTS, CAMERA CREWS, activists and politicians gathered outside a car park in Dublin this afternoon, looking through a set of closed blue gates.

Behind the gates, up a ramp and inside the 10-storey Apollo House – which looks out over Tara Street in Dublin’s south inner city – a group of five or so homeless people had spent the night.

They had been led there late last night by a band of activists, campaigners, poets and actors, as well as well-known musicians,  such as Glen Hansard, Damien Dempsey.

A Facebook Live video taken after some of the group had broken into the building by actor and activist John Connors shows Damien Dempsey being joined by a big group in a powerful rendition of the Foggy Dew, providing a revolutionary score to the occupation.

Well-known personality Mattress Mick even donated 30 mattresses to the cause.

This morning, a number of media outlets (including TheJournal.ie) were quick to cover the powerful, resonant story.

By this afternoon when the journalists descended, the celebrities had all gone, leaving behind the activists and the homeless people to deal with the specifics.

IMG_20161216_122140 Source: Cormac Fitzgerald/TheJournal.ie

“The hope for here is to create a home for homeless people,” Dean Scurry, one of the main people involved with the occupation, told reporters outside the building.

“They’re lined up here in a bed with a blanket over them… they won’t die from the cold,” he said.

Dean Scurry is one of the members of Home Sweet Home – the group central to the occupation - which seems to have sprung up literally over night, but is in fact the result of weeks of careful planning.

T-shirts with the group’s logo hung from railings outside the building on Poolbeg Street today, and the group has a dedicated website and social media channels, as well some slickly-produced promotional videos.

16/12/2016. Apollo House. Pictured Apollo House wh Source: SAM BOAL

The group is closely linked to the Mandate trade union and was co-founded by Brendan Ogle who has been an instrumental driving force behind the Right2Water and Right2Change campaigns.

It is supported by the People Before Profit political party, whose TDs Brid Smith and Richard Boyd Barrett were also on Poolbeg Street this afternoon.

“This is direct action in dealing with the crisis,” said Smith.

And fair play to the people that have organised it and the volunteers who have maintained it. It’s a great example of the answer to the corporate takeover of our world.

Irish Housing Network

The other group at the centre of the occupation is the Irish Housing Network, a broad collection of different far-left grassroots housing organisations.

Many of the organisations formed separately over the past number of years as a direct response to Ireland’s worsening housing crisis, before coming together to pursue a common goal.

They have been at the centre of various high-profile “occupations” over the past year or so, and are well-organised and media savvy.

The IHN was behind the Bolt Hostel takeover in the summer of 2015; and the Lynam’s Hotel occupation this summer, among others.

Speaking to reporters on Poolbeg Street this afternoon, spokesperson for the IHN Rosi Leonard said the plan for Apollo House was to eventually house 30 homeless adults there.

There has also been a callout for volunteers in all types of roles – including legal advice, counselling supports and others.

The idea is to turn Apollo House – which is due to be demolished – into supported long term accommodation for the homeless.

A number of extra beds have already been opened by Dublin City Council in the city centre as part of the Winter Initiative. Speaking to TheJournal.ie this morning, Leonard labelled the Initiative “ridiculous”.

“The homeless crisis doesn’t end once the winter is over,” she said.

16/12/2016. Apollo House. Pictured Irish Housing N Source: SAM BOAL

Health and safety

The move is not supported by the leading homeless charities in Ireland – Focus Ireland, the Peter McVerry Trust and others are keeping quiet on the matter.

Speaking this afternoon on RTÉ’s News at One, Sam McGuinness, CEO of the Dublin Simon Community, said that he had been giving advice to the activists (but stressed that Dublin Simon was not involved).

“It will certainly be more secure than sleeping in a doorway or sleeping in tents in the parks, or sleeping in cardboard some other place,” he said.

Some sources within the homeless charity sector have been less enthusiastic, citing the serious health and safety concerns the occupation could pose without properly-trained staff present.

IMG_20161216_124441 Activists behind the gates at Apollo House. Source: Cormac Fitzgerald/TheJournal.ie

Meanwhile, the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive – which manages homeless services for the four Dublin local authorities – is keeping schtum on the whole matter, and has said that it will not be commenting.

The gardaí also said that they assessed the situation last night. They are liaising with the occupiers but have made no attempt to evict them.

NAMA said in a statement that it does not own Apollo House.

“Any issues arising are for the receiver of the building not NAMA,” a spokesperson said.

With the building in private ownership and scheduled for demolition, it is unclear how long the protesters will be able to remain.

The latest rough sleeper count for Dublin found 142 people sleeping rough in the city centre. There have since been an extra 145 beds opened, with the Housing Department saying that there will be “a bed for anyone who want one” this Christmas.

However, McGuinness said that the beds are nearing capacity already, and the latest Simon rough sleeper count found over 100 homeless people still sleeping rough.

The IHN, Home Sweet Home, and the various activists and big-name celebrities associated with their cause clearly believe there is a need and are taking direct action in relation to homelessness.

Occupations have sprung up and fizzled out over the past year, but with the time of year that’s in it, and the big names behind it, this one could have staying power

Read: Pregnant mother ‘had to view men exposing themselves to her and her son’ in homeless accommodation

Read: Glen Hansard and Damien Dempsey among group that took over Nama building for homeless

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