Apollo House campaigners may take court action to force end to homelessness

Home Sweet Home says Nama Act allows Noonan to wipe out problem ‘at stroke of a pen’

Campaigners working with 40 homeless people in Apollo House have said they will take court action against Minister for Finance Michael Noonan if necessary to force him to hand over State-owned property to tackle the homelessness crisis.

Home Sweet Home, which took over the Nama-owned building in Dublin city centre last week, said on Friday that the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) Act made specific provision for the minister of the day to instruct the property agency to to put any property to whatever use he decrees.

Spokesman Tommy Gavin said the group intended to lobby the minister to take the necessary steps under the Nama Act to end homelessness.

“If necessary, we will seek the assistance of the courts,” he said at a briefing outside the office building.

Mr Gavin said the minister had the power to wipe out homelessness “at the stroke of a pen”.

“The fact that this has not occurred is fundamentally wrong.”

"Ireland is unique in dealing with homelessness in that we have Nama, a State-owned property company, that owns more than enough property to house our entire population of 6,700 homeless people," Mr Gavin said.

“Accordingly, we are establishing a pledge-based defence fund where you the public in Ireland and beyond, will be able to pledge the necessary funds to win this case if necessary. So we call on the Minister for Finance to insist that Nama designate enough of the State-owned property for appropriate residential use to end homelessness.”

The Peter McVerry Trust homeless charity has been invited to visit Apollo House to hold accommodation clinics with residents in advance of a January 11th deadline for them to leave the building.

It said 30 people had so far been assessed and 21 had accepted moves to alternative accommodation facilitated by the charity. Home Sweet Home has said the spaces vacated at Apollo House will be offered to other people, through soup kitchens and other services.

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney said, meanwhile, there was understandably a lot of concern around homelessness particularly at this time of year. The number of rough sleepers counted during the official count on November 22nd last was 142.

He said three new facilities for homeless people had been provided at a cost of €5.4 million.

“Last night some 54 beds were not used across the entire system,” he said.

Mr Coveney said a 40 per cent increase in homeless funding from €70 million in 2016 to €98 million in 2017 would ensure that the increased demand for emergency homeless services was effectively addressed and that it would assist in supporting homeless households with long term housing solutions.

Asked why the residents of Apollo House were not taking up one of 54 new hostel beds made available, Mr Gavin said many of these beds were in so-called wet hostels, where alcohol is allowed.

“This is a dry environment. A lot of people that are being made homeless now, it’s as a result of unemployment and of rising rents. It’s not necessarily because of high social need that people are being made homeless, and these are not good environments for those people,” he said.

The Home Sweet Home group was ordered by the High Court on Wednesday to leave the building on Tara Street in Dublin city on January 11th.

The group gained entry to the building the previous Thursday.

In a case brought by the joint receivers of the building, Mr Justice Paul Gilligan ruled the coalition of activists and homeless people involved in the occupation were trespassing.

Separately, the the Merchants Quay Ireland homelessness charity responded to recent criticisms of its MQI Night Café , which suggested it was not an adequate response to people sleeping rough.

MQI said it shared this concern, as all people who were homeless “should have access to a bed in a safe and dignified setting”.

The café opened in January 2015 following the death of homeless man Jonathan Corrie (43) outside Leinster House.