- 20 Dec 16
A musician by trade, Quentin Sheridan was homeless – and so he put out a call on Facebook. The occupation of Apollo House by Home Sweet Home is the result. But it is only the start of a battle, in which Ireland can provide the lead
Homelessness is a growing crisis in Ireland. For those who are in any doubt, here’s the facts.
Over the past year, the number of homeless families increased by over 40 percent. As the 100th anniversary year of the 1916 Easter rising comes to an end, one in three people in emergency accommodation in Ireland is a child.
Officially, at the moment, 6,525 people are homeless in Ireland, but even that shocking number does not reflect the true scale of the problem. It excludes people sleeping on the streets, living in shelters for victims of domestic violence, or “couch surfing” with friends or family. It does not tell the whole story
Why have things arrived at such a sorry pass?
The unholy combination of job losses, pay cuts, negative equity and additional taxes like the Universal Social Charge, coupled with high rents and increased repossession of houses, have cumulatively meant that many of us are more at risk of homelessness now, than at any period since the inception of the State.
Quentin Sheridan’s story is illustrative. It was his landlord who had his property repossessed. As a result, Sheridan was turfed out and he ended up sleeping rough in Dublin.
Sheridan, one of the founders of the Home Sweet Home group who have taken over Apollo House, is also a musician who performs under the name King Kyou. The protest and occupation began, he says, with an appeal on social media.
“About six weeks ago I put a passionate plea on Facebook, on Home Sweet Home, which was a page I set up at the time. I asked a couple of friends of mine who are musicians and celebrities — ‘Guys is there anything you can do to help me get something off the ground?'.”
Although Sheridan helped to set Home Sweet Home in motion, he believes that it is the widespread support of ordinary people that’s given the movement its momentum.
“I’m not the mover and shaker behind it — the people are,” he says now. "Without them, there’d be no Home Sweet Home. The main reason I was spurred-on to do this was that I used to pass this place every day for two years. There was a four foot overhang and there were two couples sleeping there and one of the ladies was pregnant.
"One day I came past and there was a fence, so that we couldn’t sleep under the overhang. And I was appalled – because it was a government building. The government is responsible for housing people that cannot house themselves. They are responsible for allowing the rents to be put up. They are not willing to fight for the ordinary citizen.”
Since moving into Apollo House, the group has got some facilities off the ground.
“We have running water, we have electricity and we have a few heaters,” says Sheridan. “We have basic camping stoves at the moment. But we have had great support from the public who’ve brought pots of stews, curries and coddles. We’re getting sandwiches and cakes off local shops. What we need most at the moment is warm clothing, jumpers, jackets for men and women.”
That too has been arriving since we spoke. While musicians played there at lunchtime today, boxes of T-shirts were being delivered.
On the wider issue, Sheridan is in no doubt that the occupation of Apollo House is more than justified. There are not enough beds in homelessness shelters across the capital to house the number of people who need accommodation, says Sheridan. What’s more, the shelters are closed during the day – and the homeless population is forced back onto the streets. At best, they are being offered night shelters. It does not even resemble the idea of a home.
“They are walking the streets from 9 in the morning until 10, 12 o’clock at night,” Quentin says. “Here, people do not have to leave the premises. We have a TV and videos we can watch. We’re hoping to get a pool table and table tennis donated soon. We have heard they are coming and we’re just waiting on them to be delivered — that’s a donation also.
“People have been amazing — it has shocked me,” he smiles – and you know he means in a good way. "It showed me people really cared. There’s many a time I sat in a doorway late at night and wondered if there was even a God to allow people to live this way.”
In addition to shelter and food, the group has received medical services from volunteers too.
“A lot of homeless people, especially at this time of year suffer from mental health disorders such as depression, because of the lives they have lived,” he reflects. "Others end up on drugs or drink because of the homeless situation. That’s was one of our main goals. We have a doctor on board, we have a psychiatrist on board, we have drug counsellors on board and we have a couple of nurses on board.”
Legal notice has already been served against the Apollo House occupiers, and a decision was ratified yesterday by Dublin City Council which will also the demolition of the building. But the group plans to fight.
“The worst case scenario is that the Receiver takes us to court and wants us to move on,” he states. "We aim to fight any summons sent against us. We allowed the police in to show them around the building. As Jim Sheridan said, this is a crisis and we need to be at the forefront of ending homelessness. If we do that, other countries will follow suit.”