As the Apollo Story progressed, most of the press attention focused on the artists, and a very small number of organisers. However, the real story of Apollo House is and always was the volunteers, over 700 of whom gave up their time to make it what it was. A stark reminder that the current housing system is broken beyond repair, and that a better world is possible. Tommy Gavin talked to many of the volunteers for #rabble13. These are some of their stories.
We, this way.
John, Resident (name changed):
I stayed there [in Apollo House] for six days, but it was still quite an intense space to be in. It was a nice social space, which if you’ve been on the streets for awhile; that really lifts you. You don’t feel cut off from society, and it was having that rest and being in that good environment.
I was a support worker. That involved linking in with the residents, looking after their needs and making sure that they were okay. I’m a qualified social care worker, and I’m more used to working long term, where you’re starting to develop the relationship and get to know someone. This was very immediate, they could have medical needs looking after, they could need food or clothes; or you’re offering an ear and a kind word and just being present and in the moment for them.
I looked after the allocation of beds. That meant making sure we never went over the capacity of forty, and that the bed was held for 48 hours for them so that they had a chance to come back, and making sure that there was an updated bed list every day as well.
I was one of the security team leads. That meant making sure that people were safe, that people were working in their positions, and making sure that there were enough people there to cover each shift. In the weeks on either side of 2016 and 2017, a public intervention was undertaken to enter and occupy a vacant NAMA building, to fix it up to a liveable standard, and to turn it into a safe and welcoming home for rough-sleeping homeless people in Dublin.
Crystal, Admin: I did admin for the majority of the time when Apollo was still going, which involved making sure that everybody felt useful. I was rostering them, but there were a lot of challenges as far as where people were put, and roles were constantly changing. Then I moved over to the finance team, there mainly I was keeping the books, and just collecting receipts, and making sure teams had enough petty cash.
It’s only the first step that is difficult…
I’ve been doing the soup runs for nearly three years, and I was working with a woman there who told me it was coming and she asked if I wanted to be involved. I said “yeah a hundred percent.”
I saw it advertised on facebook that they were looking for qualified volunteers. I mean it was so radical, and I just wanted to be a part of it. It was the centenary of 1916 and I suppose when you look back in history and everybody today likes to think that if that was to happen today, they might be in the GPO, you know, like they would be in the centre of it all fighting for the cause, where realistically people wouldn’t be, they’d be getting on with their lives thinking “oh sure that’s just them starting trouble, can they not just continue on with the way things are.” I just thought that this is our rebellion, and I would like to be a part of it.
I thought I’d put in my application and see what happens. I actually didn’t get a call back, and then there was an urgent call out for people over Christmas day, so I just called and they said yes, and I never left.
I have a big passion for homelessness, having been homeless myself. When I saw an opportunity to help I just threw in my application and that was that.
And not the distance…
The day I turned up, Glen Hansard was up on the roof singing, and it was quite chaotic the first couple of days, and I was quite apprehensive. But then a couple of days later systems and communications lines were put in place.
I thought it was going to be a lot more regimented. I think this was a lot of people’s first occupation, or direct action say; it was my first for sure.
I wasn’t expecting it to be as well organised and as well run as it was. I think a lot of people expected that it was just beds thrown everywhere and no structures, but it was very well run and very well structured.
I thought it would just be like merchant’s quay just with a bed. But it wasn’t, it was more laid back and more relaxed, a safer and more comfortable environment and. It felt like a big family home really. There was a big TV, there were lots of sofas around, and there was space to go and chill out on your own and have a read. Having a locker made a huge difference, because you could put your stuff in the locker and it was locked, and you felt safe. You didn’t have to be watching your stuff all the time. You could go and have a hot shower every day whenever you wanted to, there were washing machines there, and clothes as well. Where I am now, the staff are great and they’re just following the rules, but the rules are that we don’t have our own key. So we have to ask a staff member to unlock the door to let us in, if you go to the toilet you maybe leave your security vulnerable while you leave the door wedged to use the toilet and stuff will go missing then, and that kind of keeps you on edge.
Seeing the donations coming in was when it first started to hit home for me that this was going to be big, the first night just after the mattresses arrived, people started arriving with food.
It was like a bloody time warp, you went in for a couple of hours and ten hours later you were still there like. It was a very comfortable environment, everybody had a story, everybody had their own reasons for being there, and it was just like the barriers were brought down, and you saw past the labels of homelessness, and you heard their stories. It’s like “well no actually I had a place and the landlord just put me out, or I lost my job.” You got a real insight into a day in the life of some people.
I didn’t encounter any racism in anyway, which is something that I expect on a daily basis in Dublin. It just felt like such an even, equal space to be. People in there may have had different outlooks, but something happened when you came in there, people realised that you had a sense of something bigger than themselves, and they just left their egos at the door.
Think about the future…
I think it did have an effect, because it made all the other hostels think “oh fuck okay, this group has come together and gotten everything organised very quickly, and made everyone else look like they were just not really helping out, or going through the motions.” That the rest of them should have to up their game really, compared to what Apollo House did. I think it was the best thing that ever happened. It restored my faith in life and in humanity.
On a personal level, it gives me a new hope for Ireland, and my time here. I’ve been here for seven years and it was the first time that I felt truly accepted and equal to everybody, and I felt that that’s how everybody saw me. It kind of makes me feel like “maybe I will stick around a little bit longer” because sometimes you have days where you just think that you’ve had enough. I’ve always been involved with non-profits, but it encouraged me to get more involved with more local issues; Knowing that you can make an impact on your front doorstep has given me a new outlook. It lit a fire, so to speak.
I think it’ll go down in history and I think the next one will be bigger and better.
If you liked this read, then stumble on over to our accompanying feature looking into how the Irish Housing Network was the glue that kept the whole occupation on the road.