Apollo House - well worth fighting for


Yesterday hundreds of people turned out to support the imaginative action which is known to all as Apollo house. Apollo House is the single point of light that emerged from an otherwise dismal year, a centennial year of significance, which gave us so little to be proud of. Homelessness, in spite of being a significant symptom of all that is wrong in our society, is both ignored and tolerated. Fortunately the sight of the homeless masses did not get in the way of the centenary celebrations of what a great little republic we have grown up to be.

The actions of the Irish Housing Network and the alliance of supporters which has become known as Home Sweet Home, has taken over an ugly brutalist building and former dole office on Tara Street, and gave homeless people hope of a fresh start. What it has also done is shone a light on the inhumane bureaucratic approach of this to dealing with people who live on the streets. Getting people who have no bed for the night, to phone a free phone number in order to secure one for a single night, only to be thrown back out into the dark pre-dawn streets to do it all again the next day. Apollo House is the golden lamp that emerges from 2016 – and that’s why it has touched the people of Ireland, and been so massively supported. It is an example of what this state should do to support the dispossessed, and would have been a far more fitting tribute than having parades or concerts.

This is what a state of Liberty in Ireland of 2017 has to say
‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,’ get them to individually phone this free phone number, and I MAY give them a rolled up mattress in a communal dangerous space for one night.’

For the last couple of years the greatest gatherings of humanity at night in Dublin have all been around the soup kitchens on Grafton Street, College Green and the GPO. Occupying a building, turning it into a hostel, where you can give people the basic human dignity of shelter is apparently radical. How have we gotten to a point where this simple solution is immediately condemned by all authority and where the law, hand in glove with the State, moves swiftly to spit people back out onto the streets. It is a common story of greed, exploitation, a hierarchy of interests, and unfortunately for the homeless, they don’t count. Literally, they are not counted, because that statistic, much like their existence, is inconvenient but necessary. It all is part of the ideology that is ever present but never spoken of.

If we turn the clock back only a few months, to October, within the space of two days, we can reveal what is the motivation of those who pull the levers. On the 10th of October, Cerberus, a US based private equity firm, (Vulture Capitalists to give them their proper title) picked up an impaired loan book from Ulster bank for an undisclosed sum. Amongst that loan book was 900 mortgages of owner occupied houses. Family homes to you and me. 95% of those homes are in arrears of two years or more, and all would be in court proceedings, or as the bank call it ‘legal proceedings.’
So what happens now? Well those people get taking to court, by the Cerberus and they’ll have their houses taken back of them. That creates additional families who end up in emergency accommodation or worse still, adds to the growing numbers of homelessness.

The next day, on the 11th of October, Simon Coveney, the Minister for Housing, announces...
A 40% increase in homeless funding from €70m this year to €98m in 2017 will ensure that the increased demand for emergency homeless services is effectively addressed and will assist in supporting homeless households with long term and sustainable housing solutions. (Dept. Coveney announces transformational housing budget)

This is the government response to the crisis; to put more money into dealing with the symptom, rather than tackling the source of this disease, the repossession of family homes. The Central bank published that by the end of September 2016 the banks/lenders had repossessed 1,698 principal dwelling houses (Central Bank Statistical Release). When you strip it back from the jargon, it means that 4 family homes a day being repossessed according to Focus Ireland. The government response was to give more in relation to emergency accommodation because as a good friend points out, emergency accommodation measures are simply ‘good for the market.’ Having a people in total fear of being homeless, causes people to pay more in rent, and the landlords grin and stuff their pockets. Interesting to note that our Minister for Housing is a landlord, and here we get to the crux of this. Having money invested in emergency homelessness, and the money that goes to hotels, bed and breakfasts, even to the services themselves, means that the market continues unimpeded by the social implications of the action. Good news for landlords, hotels, builders and business. It will continue to be bad news for tenants, mortgage defaulters; people. The ideologues, the neo-liberals, successive governments like to see the market continue unchecked. That is an ideological decision. It is not surprising that landlords, bondholders, hotel owners, make those decisions. Capitalism is full flow, untethered and people are damned into living with the consequences.

It is not complicated to actually tackle this problem, but let us do that and not just pick up the tab for the symptoms whilst making rich people richer in the process.

Let me bullet point this for all

1. Build more houses
This is a straight forward proposition, which again the ideologues have a difficult time translating into action. We can only judge them by the fact that they managed a grand total of 334 social houses in 2015. (The Journal Fact check Feb 9th) And what I mean is actually build the houses, employ builders to do this job and complete homes for families who are on the social housing list. Not changing planning regulations so that we can attract private developers in to do the work for us so that we can then take a few houses off them at the end of their profitable venture and put them into the social housing stock!

2. Stop the banks from repossessing homes
This requires an understanding of history, but it is recent history. Between 2008 -2014, Ireland spent €60 Billon support our defunct banking system. (Dr. Julien Mercille –Chapter 3 of the C&AG report 2014) and the interest yearly costs us €1 billon. Given that we know this, why are the same banks permitted to sell the impaired loans of family homes to capitalist firms so the vultures can make people homeless? See Ulster bank story: 10th Oct. referred to above.

The answer my friends, is ideological. Capitalism and the markets are allowed to continue unchecked. Sure there will be ‘collateral’ damage, people will get made homeless, but in the short term the narrative is that we are in ‘recovery’. The markets and economy is recovering, and this we are told of is more importance. There is also a sinister unspoken moral judgement in the midst of this narrative; that the people who end up living on the streets have in some way brought this on themselves.

Within the ideology there is this reliance on the experts and we hear frequent calls to ‘logic’. There are spin doctors busily weaving stories about the dangers of simple solutions to complex problems. The illustration of a complex problem is the fact that it appears totally illogical that buildings which are unoccupied and in the possession of the National Asset Management Agency, (us the people) have to be left abandoned when we have a growing army of homeless in the streets. That is the beauty of Apollo House, an action that cut through the Gordian knot, and showed us all the truth and the consequences of their non-interference with the market.

Apollo House is an example of when break through the wall of nonsense propaganda and expose Capitalism in all its ugly inhumane nature for the beast that it is. The cost of policies is homelessness, misery, addictions, and lives destroyed. Apollo house exposes these entrails and damage and make it visible. It screams that something has to be done, but it does something better. It does not ask permission, it was a call to action, and it brings with it the promise of a better future.

Apollo house is an example of people themselves putting in place a society, based on the needs people who have nothing. It is a living embodiment of how society should be run, in the interests of people, meeting their needs and progressing on towards reaching other goals. But the ideologues are determined to shut that down. We only win what we can hold onto, so Apollo house has to be fought for. If it shuts down more will appear, because the idea at the heart of this is that society has to be run in the interests of people. The days of feeding the beast of capital are numbered.