Apollo House supporters deliver letter to Department of Finance

Campaigners say 205 homeless people were helped or given shelter at office building over Christmas

Several hundred Apollo House supporters marched to the Department of Finance to call on Michael Noonan to use more NAMA owned buildings for social housing. Video: Enda O'Dowd

 

Housing activists marched to the Department of Finance on Tuesday to hand in a petition urging that the State asset agency make vacant housing available for homeless people.

Campaigners with the Home Sweet Home group published an open letter to Minister for Finance Michael Noonan calling on him to use his powers under the National Asset Management Agency Act “for social good”.

The letter was handed over by homeless people who have been living at Apollo House, a vacant office building on Poolbeg Street in Dublin city centre which is targeted for demolition and redevelopment.

Hundreds of people sang, played instruments and chanted along the route, with stewards in hi-vis vests directing the march safely through light city traffic.

“What do we want? Homes for the homeless. When do we want them? Now,” went the chant as the group wound its way up College Green.

A number of homeless people were visible in doorways wrapped in sleeping bags on Nassau Street as the protest passed.

Two of the activists, Carrie Hennessy and Niamh McDonald were surrounded by reporters and photographers as they handed in a letter to officials on the steps of the Department of Finance building on Merrion Street.

They said the country was facing a housing emergency and the Government was sitting on a bank of houses while people died on the streets.

Ms Hennessy, whose mother and aunt were in the crowd, told the story of her own experience of homelessness and of ending up in hostels with people smoking crack cocaine and taking heroin.

She feared ending up back on “the dreaded freephone” number for homeless people to ring to see if there was a bed available for them, she said.

“Anybody that’s homeless knows what this freephone is all about. You are spoken to like you are dog. You’re worse than a dog. You don’t get a bed. Most of the time you don’t even get a sleeping bag anymore.”

There were nine other families in the B&B she had ultimately ended up in and she felt she was in the way of parents and their children when they needed to cook or do washing, she said. She spent all her time in her room and stored her food in a box under her bed, she said.

“This is not living. It’s just existing. I can’t remember the last time I woke up beside my partner because he’s not allowed stay.”

Home Sweet Home said the State had obligations under EU and international law to provide social housing for all the people in the Republic who were in need of a roof over their heads.

This included those who were sleeping rough, those in emergency accommodation or who had been evicted, those who had had their homes repossessed or who were unable to afford the “exorbitant” prices currently being charged in the private rental market.

Legislation

In a statement on Tuesday afternoon, the Department of Finance confirmed receipt of the campaigners’ letter but said the Government was aware of the powers of Nama under the 2009 legislation.

“Nama has already been active in this space and have offered almost 7,000 units to local authorities for use as social housing. Nama advise that of these local authorities have taken up c. 2,400 units for social housing use,” the department said in a statement.

“Nama also has plans to facilitate the delivery of 20,000 private residential units on sites securing its loans in Dublin and its surrounds in the period to 2020.”

The department said the agency was “ well on its way to deliver on that target and from Q1 2014 to December 2016 have facilitated the delivery of 4,500”.

“The associated 10 per cent social housing delivered on such sites should not be forgotten and is a further meaningful contribution to addressing shortages. This initiative highlights how Nama can advance its commercial mandate whilst also being mindful of ancillary social objectives.”

The department said the availability of housing was “the key priority for government and has been the focus of a number of measures introduced under the Government’s Rebuilding Ireland Plan”.

Home Sweet Home said Apollo House had provided shelter to 40 people and helped a further 205 people access shelter over the Christmas period, many of whom would have otherwise been sleeping on the streets.

The activists and residents have been directed by the High Court to leave the property by January 11th.

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.

Rosi Leonard of Home Sweet Home said the group hoped to have confirmation by January 11th that the needs of all those currently accommodated at Apollo House had been catered for.

If this was not the case, the group would be asking the Government why it was willing to allow 40 people sleep on the streets, she added.