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What has happened to Home Sweet Home (and the €190,000 that was donated)?

The campaign responsible for the occupation of Apollo House has been quiet in recent months.

90436657_90436657 A t-shirt hangs outside Apollo House on the first day of the occupation. Source: RollingNews.ie

IT HAS BEEN over four months since a group of artists, housing activists and trade union officials took over a vacant Dublin city centre building to house homeless people.

Under the banner of the Home Sweet Home campaign, activists occupied the Nama-controlled Apollo House on Poolbeg Street on the night of 15 December.

The occupation lasted over three weeks, through Christmas and into January. In that time, Apollo House provided accommodation for over 205 homeless people.

Throughout the occupation – which had the support of celebrities like Glen Hansard, Jim Sheridan and Damien Dempsey, among many others – public support was huge.

Thousands of people signed up to volunteer at Apollo House. There were massive amounts of food, clothes and general supplies donated.

90437685_90437685 A room full of donations in Apollo House in early January. Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

The campaign also received tens of thousands of euros in monetary donations.

Accounts released by the Home Sweet Home campaign in February – a month after the Apollo House occupation ended – showed that it had raised just under €190,000 in the period between 15 December and 18 January.

The vast majority of this – €174,451 - was raised via an online GoFundMe account, set up just before the occupation began.

This fund saw near-constant activity over the course of the occupation, with thousands raised in the first day alone. Single donations from €5 all the way up to €5,000 were given to the campaign.

The GoFundMe campaign is managed by Oisín Fagan, a member of the Irish Housing Network (IHN) – one of the key groups involved with the Home Sweet Home campaign.

Money was withdrawn from the GoFundMe account into a bank account run by the IHN as it was needed. The funds were used to pay for the running of Apollo House and to address the residents’ needs throughout and immediately after the occupation.

90438164_90438164 A banner hung outside the Apollo House building in January. Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Campaign accounts showed that it had spent just over €60,000 throughout the course of the occupation and after (from 12 December to 25 January), leaving about €129,000 left unspent.

The largest amount of money was spent on security services for Apollo House throughout the course of the occupation. Just under €39,000 was spent on the services of Security Partners Ltd.

Close to €7,500 was spent in total over three separate transactions to Liffey Oil for oil to heat the building throughout the occupation. Other expenses included food, maintenance and transport.

Throughout the course of the occupation, activists involved with the campaign:

Over the Christmas and January period, Home Sweet Home said it was a long-term, direct intervention campaign dedicated to tackling Ireland’s long-term housing and homelessness crisis.

So, where is the campaign at now? Are there any future plans? And what is happening with the remaining money that was donated?

Leaving Apollo House

Following the high-profile quitting of Apollo House by residents and activists on Thursday, 12 January, Home Sweet Home said they would continue the momentum generated by the occupation.

Many activists and occupiers did not want to comply with the court order calling for them to leave by 11 January. A huge demonstration was held outside Apollo House on that date, with activists saying they would not leave.

There were conflicting views within Home Sweet Home about how to proceed at this time. Speaking about the occupation during a panel discussion with other members of the campaign last month, Unite trade union official Brendan Ogle – one of the principal figures of the campaign – described the mood in Apollo House at this juncture.

Speaking about the last night in Apollo House, Ogle said:

“Because of a court order – that we did everything we could to avoid – Apollo House went from being the safest place for those vulnerable [homeless] people… to the worst because the resources that would meet those needs wouldn’t come in because the stay on the court order had run out.

To me that’s very basic, very obvious. The venom and the hate that confronted myself and one or two others when we went in there to point that out was really disturbing.

Ogle was referring to the fact that support services from homelessness charity the Peter McVerry Trust – which had been entering Apollo House on a regular basis – would no longer enter the building after the date set by the High Court had passed.

Despite the initial resistance to leaving from some elements, the campaign called an end the occupation the next day.

90438264_90438264 Supporters and activists leaving Apollo House on the morning of 12 January. Source: Sam Boal

What’s happening now?

Following the occupation, a conference – ‘Home Sweet Home The Next Steps’ – was scheduled for 18 February, where the campaign said “formalised structures will be announced and put in place”.

This was cancelled in February, however. The campaign said it would be moving the conference “to a later day in March”.

It said the change of date was to facilitate the “ongoing work of Home Sweet Home” which included a support centre to be opened in Dublin city for the homeless and people in need.

90438268_90438268 Ogle speaking to reporters outside Apollo House on the day the occupation ended. Source: RollingNews.ie

No future date for a conference has since been announced; nor has a support centre been opened.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Rosi Leonard – one of the main spokespeople of the campaign throughout the Apollo House occupation – said that there were currently “no plans” to hold a conference.

“We have no plans to hold a conference, we have no plans for the future right now,” said Leonard.

We’ve kind of all gone back into our groups now, continuing the work that we’ve been doing on the ground.

90437326_90437326 Leonard speaking to reporters during the occupation. Source: RollingNews.ie

Different groups 

Leonard is a member of the Irish Housing Network (IHN) – a collection of grassroots activist organisations dedicated to ending homelessness and helping those affected.

The collective has been involved in direct action occupation for the past three years.

Leonard said the IHN had been “very active” since the end of the Apollo House occupation. She said the group had been working at a community level to assist those in need.

“Our focus now is to continue to work on the ground to build up the ability that we have to actually fight the crisis and end it,” she said.

The IHN was yesterday involved with the May Day march with many other groups calling for an end to homelessness.

Leonard said that there were no plans for action from Home Sweet Home collectively in the near future, but that the “network of people is still there”.

When questioned over whether Home Sweet Home still existed, Leonard said:

It is still a thing. [The different groups] are still in contact but at the moment we have no plans to announce just yet.

06/01/2017. Housing Agency - Apollo House. Picture Different members of the Home Sweet Home campaign pictured after meeting housing minister Simon Coveney in December. Source: SAM BOAL

“Essentially Home Sweet Home was set up for the purpose of Apollo House, it was set up with the purpose of putting this to the Government.

“So when Apollo House left we were trying to restructure ourselves and think about what we would do next and what would be most effective.

For many of us in the IHN, the most effective thing was to continue doing the work on the ground.

Leonard said the IHN was still in touch with the former residents of Apollo House, many of whom were granted six-month beds in emergency accommodation as a direct result of the occupation.

In terms of the trade union representatives – the other key element of the campaign – Leonard said that officials had been busy in recent months with the Tesco and Bus Éireann strike action.

Attempts were made to reach Unite’s Brendan Ogle, but he was unavailable for comment at the time of publication. It’s understood that Ogle is currently on leave.

Mandate trade union’s Dave Gibney – who was also heavily involved in the campaign – told Thejournal.ie that his trade union (along with Unite and others) remained fully committed to campaigning to try to end Ireland’s homelessness and housing crises.

In terms of the Home Sweet Home campaign directly, Gibney said he needed to sit down with the other groups involved to figure out where the campaign was going.

He said he and Mandate had been preoccupied with the Tesco strike and he hadn’t sat down with the other groups for a number of months. He said he would soon set up a meeting with the different strands of Home Sweet Home to find out “exactly where we are”.

“We’re going to continue to campaign on homelessness,” he said.

We do need to sit down with the rest of the guys to see where they are and what they want to do.

90429385_90429385 Dave Gibney (right) pictured with Brendan Ogle last year. Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

As for the third element of Home Sweet Home – the artists – Leonard said that a number of the people involved were “doing various things at the moment”.

TheJournal.ie made attempts to contact a representative of the artist element of the campaign, but was unable to do so.

What has happened with the money?

As already mentioned, as of 6 February – when Home Sweet Home released its accounts – the campaign had just under €129,000 left over after all of the expenses from the Apollo House occupation had been deducted.

Since then, Rosi Leonard said the campaign has not spent any of the money raised.

“That’s all the money that’s been spent,” said Leonard.

We haven’t been spending any money since then. So there hasn’t been any expenses.

Leonard said that everyone involved in the campaign was a volunteer, and there were no expenses on that end. She said volunteers were now working on a number of “legacy projects” on which the remaining money would be spent.

“All of us are working on a legacy plan for that money,” she said.

She said that the campaign wasn’t “ready to announce” the projects yet.

“But we’re working out legacy projects and ways to make sure the money goes towards the aims of Apollo House initially.

Which was to essentially support community groups in ending homelessness, so that’s what we’re doing.

Dave Gibney said that he believed the campaign was still looking to set up a support centre in Dublin for people affected by the housing crisis and homelessness and that a proportion of the funds would go towards this end.

Gibney also said that the campaign and funds raised had been reviewed by the Standards in Public Office (Sipo), and had been found to be compliant.

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Extra funds 

The GoFundMe campaign for Home Sweet Home appears to still be open, almost four months after the Apollo House occupation ended.

Judging by the donation entries on the page, in the time since the last entry on the Home Sweet Home accounts (27 January) and the last donation (13 days ago) an estimated extra €2,500 was donated (including a single donation of €1,437).

This brings the fund to about €131,000 overall.

Despite the page appearing to remain active, Leonard said that the campaign was “not asking for any more donations”.

“As far as we’re concerned there’s no need for anyone to be looking at that,” she said.

I’m sure that will be closed soon but we definitely don’t want anyone to be using it, or we definitely wouldn’t be soliciting anyone to be using it.

TheJournal.ie attempted to contact the GoFundMe page directly, but had received no response at the time of publication.

In a statement in February, Oisín Fagan – who manages the campaign – encouraged anyone who had donated money to the campaign and had genuine concerns to “contact us directly through our Facebook page for Home Sweet Home”.

In response to a question on Facebook about the money raised, the IHN said that the fund had been “kept open in case people wanted their money back after [the occupation] ended”.

IHN Source: Facebook

A number of people have expressed concerns over the money publicly on the Home Sweet Home Facebook page since January. Leonard said that there had not been many instances of people enquiring about donations or asking for money back.

“I think people are generally are still quite happy about all what happened,” she said.

We haven’t had issues with that.

When questioned about any potential refunds, Leonard said she wasn’t sure how this would be possible through GoFundMe (the website itself says all donations are final).

“Logistically, I’m not sure how that would work,” she said.

Leonard said that people had donated to the campaign “in the spirit of ending homelessness” and she hoped that the legacy projects would work towards realising this aim.

Legacy 

Over four months after the occupation of Apollo House began, Ireland’s homelessness and housing crisis continues to deepen.

Latest figures for the month of March showed a record number of homeless adults and children staying in emergency accommodation in the country.

During the occupation, Home Sweet Home campaigners said Apollo House was a direct action intervention to tackle Ireland’s homelessness crisis.

They said the campaign was a long-term effort aimed at ending homelessness in Ireland. For the past number of months, Home Sweet Home has been keeping a low profile.

Are more direct action occupations possible in the future if the crisis continues to worsen?

“It’s hard to say,” said Leonard.

I think in some cases if the Government fails to act as they have been and fails to give housing and the housing crisis continues to escalate, then I can’t say that people won’t need to take action.

Read: Mannix Flynn: ‘Apollo House completely failed’

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About the author:

Cormac Fitzgerald

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