Former homeless Apollo House residents secure home

Czech couple now have hope for the future and jobs including a space-technology internship

Tomas Synacek and Lucie Venglovska at their accomodation on South Circular Road, Dublin. “Apollo House was a new start for us,” says  Tomas. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Tomas Synacek and Lucie Venglovska at their accomodation on South Circular Road, Dublin. “Apollo House was a new start for us,” says Tomas. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

A Czech couple, who came to Ireland in May 2015 “for a new life” but spent more than a year sleeping rough, now have a home and one is interning with a Texas-based space technology company. Tomas Syancek (47) and his wife, Lucie Venglovska (32), sold everything they had in the Czech Republic and came here, believing they were well funded with €3,000. Tomas, a computer programmer with seven computer languages, and Lucie, with experience in hotel work, expected to find employment and a place to live easily.

Instead they stayed for three months in hostels. “I worked first in hotels,” says Lucie, but Tomas, with little English then, found it impossible to get work.

As they came to the end of their savings they approached Focus Ireland. “They told us to call the freephone [a phone service for people at risk of sleeping rough, to access emergency accommodation],” says Lucie.

“Every evening we ask for a bed for a couple, but there is none. The only place was the Merchant’s Quay cafe. For many months we slept on mats on the ground there. For us it was catastrophic. People around us were drunk, on drugs. We hate drugs.

“During the day we’d go to the Capuchin friars for breakfast and a shower. We’d go to the library in the Ilac Centre. Once a week we went to Alice Leahy in Trust. She helped us. She is a very good woman.”

Phone stolen

On one occasion in the Merchant’s Quay night cafe Tomas’s phone was stolen. They decided not to go back, and slept instead in sleeping bags on the street. They got a tent, in which they slept near Spencer Dock, between September and December 2016.

“We had three sleeping bags each,” says Lucie.

In December 2016, they heard about the occupation by housing activists of the vacant office building Apollo House in the city centre. Despite some misgivings, they went there on December 17th, 2016, and stayed there until a High Court ruling ordered all occupants to vacate the building on January 12th, 2017.

Asked about Apollo House they say: “The people were so friendly. We had a room and a bed. It was the first time we were warm in months.”

They tell how they woke their first morning there at 11am, shocked they had slept so long and surprised when told they could stay all day. “It was amazing for us,” says Tomas. “If you wanted to sleep all day it was okay.”

Couples facilities

Upon leaving Apollo House the couple were accommodated by the Peter McVerry Trust at one of its couples facilities. They both got work – Tomas repairing computers at a city-centre shop, and Lucie in a hotel.

He helped write a programme for one of the shop’s customers and was later contacted by Space X, a company designing rockets and spacecraft, with its central projects office in San Antonio, Texas. Its European personnel office is in Cork. “They said the project I did was amazing.”

Tomas is now interning with Space X, which is paying for him to complete a postgraduate degree with the University of Masaryk, in the Czech Republic. He sits the final exams in Trinity College in June.

Just before Christmas the couple moved into a small flat comprising one room, off which is a small galley kitchen. A tiny shower room is off the kitchen. It is €1,300 a month and they get the housing assistance payment (HAP).

“It is heaven. Apollo House was a new start for us. Everything is better. One day we will have a home, with no HAP and a good job,” says Tomas. “A new life is starting.”