Apollo House: ‘It is beautiful here. I would stay forever’

Residents at Home Sweet Home’s shelter say it provides warmth and psychological space

Pictures from inside show the current living conditions in Apollo House, an occupied building on Dublin's Tara Street. Video: Irish Housing Network

 

Ken and Rachel, a married couple who do not want their surname used so as to protect their children’s privacy, have been in Apollo House since the first night of its occupation by campaigners.

From outside Dublin, they lost their council house following intimidation which included an arson attack, they say. Their children are with their grandparents.

Now sharing a large office converted into a comfortable double room, the couple had been sleeping in a tent for 16 months and in doorways in Dublin.

“I heard about this place that Thursday night, December 15th. Someone told me about Home Sweet Home, said people were gathering at the GPO that night,” says Ken.

The Home Sweet Home (HSH) coalition of activists and homeless people, supported by high-profile artists, have been occupying Apollo House, a vacant Nama-managed office building on Poolbeg Street which has housed homeless people since last month.

When Ken and Rachel got word activists had gained entry to Apollo House, the couple were among those carrying mattresses, delivered by Mattress Mick, into the building at about 11pm.

“That first weekend all we had were the mattresses,” laughs Rachel. “We had electricity but no heating and were using bottled water,”she says.

Furniture and food

By the following Monday, HSH had donations of furniture, clothes, cooking equipment, showers and professional expertise.

The heating is now on, food is served throughout the day and, unlike many other hostels, residents can come and go as they please during the day. There is an 11pm curfew.

Ken and Rachel’s room has a double bed, two bedside lockers, a couch, wall-to-wall carpeting, a fluffy rug, a television and a DVD player.

A bowl of fruit sits on the coffee table and a small electric stove makes for a cosy refuge.

They had been unable to get emergency accommodation as a couple, explains Rachel.

“All we were offered was a bed for Ken in a men’s hostel and for me in a women’s. We’re married. We can’t be separated.”

Ken, who is in a drug recovery programme with the Peter McVerry Trust, says this is the first time in over a year he can focus on a future.

“I feel like a man again,” he says. The couple are among 33 people staying in Apollo House.

Asked about the attraction of the project, Ken says: “We can stay together. And it’s clean and safe.”

Apollo House “Ground Rules” are posted at the entrance, where people sign in and out. Among these are: “Everyone is equal”,

“This is a drug and alcohol-free space” and “Use respectful language. This is an inclusive and open space”.

This floor then opens out into a large communal area with a television and couches at one end, a small library area, tables and chairs, and at the far end a pool table.

Also, here is a large arts table on which people are painting a “Home Sweet Home” banner.

Residents and volunteers

“We do a lot of art therapy,” says Tom Ryan. A HSH volunteer who has been homeless for 18 months, he shows the fully fitted kitchen donated by catering firm Caterex.

From a room equipped with ovens, sinks, fridges, pots and pans, chilli con carne followed by fruit crumble was served last night served to residents and volunteers.

The kitchen remains open to anyone wanting a cup of tea, biscuits or other snacks.

There are bedrooms off this area, and bedrooms on the next two floors.

A fourth floor – an open plan office – now accommodates donations, sorted into such categories as toiletries, cooking equipment, books, delph and cutlery, clothes, shoes and bedding. On a fifth floor are showers.

Frank, an EU-union citizen who has been in Ireland for three years, arrived at Apollo House on New Year’s Eve.

A recovering alcoholic, he lost his accommodation on December 15th. “I had a slip. I got drunk and all my money was robbed.”

He sought “help from social services” he says, but because he could not prove he had been working in Ireland he could not get assistance.

A graphic designer, he heard about Apollo House on the radio. “It is beautiful here,” he says. “If I could I would stay forever.”

HSH has been ordered by the High Court to vacate the building by noon on January 11th.