Updated at 10.15pm
AROUND ABOUT APOLLO House this afternoon, there was a hum of nervous expectation.
With the (legal) future of the Home Sweet Home occupation set to be decided in front of Justice Paul Gilligan at the High Court at midday, the crowd gathered knew an announcement was imminent.
What way the occupants would react to the coming order was less certain. But you got the idea there was a reason the rally that was being held was taking place in front of the property around which four weeks of mighty controversy had unfolded, rather than at the Four Courts.
Just before midday, a couple of hundred supporters stood and sung absentmindedly. The remaining occupants and activists sang along with them to David Gray’s Babylon from the building’s balcony.
“Lads, we have some news from the court,” spokeswoman for Home Sweet Home Rosi Leonard eventually told the crowd.
Beforehand, there had been pockets of space throughout the sizeable crowd. Now everyone instinctively moved forward. The news was as expected – as far as the judge was concerned the residents of Apollo House had had a long enough of a stay – they were to vacate the building.
If anyone in attendance at the site were perturbed by the news, they weren’t showing it.
“This is not over,” Leonard said defiantly. “These people took shelter here because they had nowhere else to go.”
Yesterday Simon Coveney spoke to us as if he was willing to meet minimum standards. Then today we had eight residents who left to go to that homeless accommodation. And they came back, because they said the conditions there were worse than prison.
They’re treating us like dogs. They’re treating us like fools… We’re not taking it any more. This housing crisis is going to end, and it’s going to end in a way that is fair and dignified for everyone, that will guarantee everyone a safe home. We are going to defy this court order. We are staying here.
The resulting cheers were those of nervous release. Now everyone knew what was to happen next, in the short term at any rate.
Now Leonard beseeched all those present to link arms in a human chain around the block and building: “We need you to stand with us… to send a clear message that we are standing together.”
It took a few minutes, but soon enough the chain was in place around the entire structure, with all present being led in a chant of “What do we want? Homes for the homeless! When do we want them? Now!”.
From worry, the air was now one of cheerful defiance. On neighbouring Tara Street truck and taxi drivers beeped their solidarity. Apollo House may be occupied in three months, it may be empty this time next week. But just for the moment, everyone present stood as one.
Over 205 people have taken shelter in Apollo House since the occupation began on 15 December, with up to 40 homeless people staying there each night.
Home Sweet Home announced on Monday that it had reached an agreement with Housing Minister Simon Coveney over the transition of the remaining residents there to alternative suitable accommodation.
It was believed that this transition would be completed in days, with the building being completely vacated by tomorrow.
Tony Walsh, one of the team leaders of the occupying activists, introduced us to one man, a recovering addict and one of the eight residents who had returned to the building from the alternative accommodation that had been provided.
“They were cleaning up syringes, cleaning up syringes into yellow bags this morning,” he said of his experience in the hostel.
“We’ve had residents come back with pictures of blood on the wall, alcohol and drugs being used in the services,” said Walsh. “They don’t want to go into the hostels because they’ve alcohol and drugs in there. They’re not safe.”
‘We want change’
This afternoon, Housing Minister Coveney was keeping things low key. While reiterating that “210 new additional emergency beds are being provided” in Dublin city centre since the start of December, as far as Apollo House is concerned his words struck a conciliatory tone.
“In relation to Apollo house, the Minister would encourage the representatives of the Home Sweet Home campaign to continue to engage with the Peter McVerry Trust and DCC with a view to making arrangements for the transition of people currently in Apollo House to alternative suitable accommodation with appropriate supports,” he said.
Tony Walsh is not for changing however, certainly not at present.
“We want change,” he said. “Home Sweet Home have raised the bar as far as how hostels are run.”
What we have achieved in three and a half weeks is amazing. We got into this for people, so they could go into a hostel where it was safe, where it was warm, with wraparound services to help them move forward. Let me tell you, when these people go into these other hostels, it isn’t a step forward, it’s ten steps back.
People are fearful – they won’t go into the hostels because of the way they’re run. Then ask people how Apollo House is run – it’s warm, it’s friendly. These people aren’t animals.
And now he’s sticking to his guns: “What we wanted was everyone to be housed. And we’re not moving until that is the case.”
If there’s one person left behind, we are going to stay and fight for that one person. Not one person will be left behind. Enough is enough.
A vigil in support of the Home Sweet Home movement was held outside Apollo House this evening.
Can’t watch the video? Click here.
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Read: Judge says Apollo House occupiers can’t stay any longer – but they say they’re not going anywhere