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'This is only the start' - The occupation has ended, but what's next for Home Sweet Home?

The occupation of Apollo House has ended – but what happens next?

12/01/2017. Apollo House- Home Sweet Home. Picture Brendan Ogle speak to reporters, flanked on either side by Glen Hansard and Aisling Hedderman. Source: SAM BOAL/RollingNews.ie

THE OCCUPATION OF Apollo House has ended.

Complying with a court order, the remaining residents left the Nama-controlled building in taxis yesterday morning, followed shortly by the activists and volunteers.

One homeless man held out and remained in the building as of Thursday night, but campaigners say they are confident he will leave.

It’s exactly one month to the day that members of the Home Sweet Home campaign – a broad coalition of housing activists, artists and trade union members – took over Apollo House in Dublin and repurposed it as accommodation for the homeless.

In that time, the campaign has garnered huge public support, brought government ministers to the table and has been hugely critical of the situation facing homeless people in Ireland.

On Wednesday, it seemed as though activists were prepared to defy a court order and stay in the building. But in the end they said that, in the interest of the needs and well-being of the homeless residents, it was better to go.

So, the occupation has ended, but as Home Sweet Home insisted yesterday – the campaign has just begun.

But what will happen to all the donations given and money raised? What is the next plan for activists? Can the Home Sweet Home campaign call this a victory?

So what happens to all the monetary, clothes and food donations given to the campaign?

3/1/2017. Apollo House Homeless Crisis A room full of donations in Apollo House. Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

The Home Sweet Home campaign and Apollo House occupation was at the receiving end of Christmas benevolence from the public from the beginning.

This support has continued into the New Year and translated into massive amounts of donations. More than 2,500 people have also come forward to give their time and skills to the cause.

A GoFundMe page for the campaign has collected more than €170,000 to date, and continues to raise money. Organisers have also been inundated with clothes, food and other donations in the month since the occupation began.

3/1/2017. Apollo House Homeless Crisis A bedroom in Apollo House. Source: Sam Boal

In terms of monetary gifts, funds are being transferred into a bank account operated by a member of the Irish Housing Network – one of the key groups involved in the campaign.

Oisín Fagan – one of the prominent activists with the Irish Housing Network – runs the GoFundMe account. Last week, he told reporters that this was because “only individuals can run the GoFundMe page”.

Fagan claimed the Irish Housing Network does not own the money raised, but that the HSH campaign administered “those funds for the running of Apollo House”.

05/01/2017. Home Sweet Home - Emergency Housing Pl Home Sweet Home activists from left to right: David Gibney, Brendan Ogle, Terry McMahon and Oisin Fagan at a press conference last week. Source: SAM BOAL/RollingNews.ie

He added that the campaign was fully accountable in terms of finance and kept records of all transactions and what the money was used for. He said accounts would be released in due course.

In a press conference on Monday, trade union official and HSH spokesperson Brendan Ogle said that the occupation “hasn’t been a particularly expensive campaign” and that the group will liaise with the people who donated to decide how the excess money will be spent.

He pledged that the funds would go towards tackling homelessness and that accounts of spending and donations would be published in due course.

Speaking to reporters, Ogle said that the people Home Sweet Home was accountable to were those who had donated to the campaign.

In terms of food, clothes and other donations, Rosi Leonard said earlier this week that excess supplies have been and will be donated to other charities and used by the campaign in its outreach operations.

What’s next for Home Sweet Home?

3/1/2017. Apollo House Homeless Crisis Crowds gathered in Dublin last week in support of HSH. Source: SAM BOAL/Rollingnews.ie

It’s clear from all the comments made by Home Sweet Home campaigners that leaving Apollo House is far from the end for them.

Ogle said on Monday that the initiative would set up a full-time permanent support centre in Dublin for people seeking accommodation.

He reiterated that statement to reporters outside of Apollo House yesterday morning.

Ogle said that Home Sweet Home would not be registering as a charity or formal organisation and would remain simply a “campaign”.

Its members have already started nightly outreach operations, providing food, supplies and support to people in need.

On top of this, campaigners say they will continue to work closely with former residents of Apollo House and others to ensure that Dublin City Council and the Housing Department meet their demands.

A challenge for campaigners will also be keeping the disparate bodies and elements of Home Sweet Home together in the future for any further action.

Home Sweet Home is an amorphous and changeable coalition of different bodies and personalities. It’s three key elements – the Irish Housing Network, the trade unions, and the artists – are completely distinct and are themselves made up of different groups and bodies.

For example the Irish Housing Network itself is made up of a series of different community housing organisations, while the artists are all autonomous individuals.

It’s a testament to the organisation and intention of Home Sweet that it managed to keep a unified front throughout the occupation.

However, without a common symbol and goal like Apollo House, it will be all the harder to direct the intentions of the group in a single direction.

‘A sad victory’

It is clear then that the Home Sweet Home campaign has been successful in getting people off the street for Christmas and into accommodation.

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

In terms of what they have gained in terms of concessions from government and the council is still disputed by both sides.

Home Sweet Home say it is responsible for securing six-month accommodation for the former residents of Apollo House and setting new minimum standards for homeless accommodation.

Both these claims are disputed by Dublin City Council, which says it already secures minimum standards in all accommodation used to house the homeless.

Campaigners also say they are directly responsible for two new supported independent living hostels to be opened in Dublin in the coming months.

Yesterday campaigners declared a measured “victory” in how the occupation played out.

They point towards the concessions they claim they gained from government, saying this is the first step towards “ending homelessness”.

But as we have reported previously - and as the HSH campaign concedes – emergency shelters are not homes.

Coveney once again reiterated his commitment this week to pursue Housing First as a means towards ending homelessness – that is, taking the most entrenched, severe cases of homelessness off the streets and giving them their own property with support.

The beginning of the Home Sweet Home campaign and the Apollo House occupation captured the public’s imagination and sympathy around the issue of homelessness like few before it.

However, people will remember the death of homeless man Jonathan Corrie just over two years ago outside Leinster House. Corrie’s death generated huge public sympathy at the time and put pressure on the government to act immediately to address the spiralling homelessness crisis.

Two years later, and the enduring legacy of the action taken then is yet more emergency beds, and levels of homelessness at their worst.

download (1) A Journal.ie report around the time of Corre's death

It is commonly accepted in homelessness services that once an emergency shelter is opened, it is very difficult to close it. And these shelters do little to address the actual, long-term problem of homelessness.

Campaigners have stated repeatedly that Apollo House was just the beginning of Home Sweet Home, and that long-term homes for homeless people and to “end homelessness” in Ireland is its goal.

The occupation has been a huge success in terms of direct action, public support and raising awareness of a serious issue. Whether it is a victory in terms of working towards ending homelessness remains to be seen.

Read: Home Sweet Home makes government deal but future of Apollo House uncertain

Read: “This is not living it’s just existing”: Apollo House volunteer on her struggle to find a home

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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