- 18 Dec 16
The singer has issued an invitation to the Minister for Housing to visit Apollo House, in Dublin, which has been occupied by campaigners who aim to bring an end to homelessness.
It’s a bitterly cold December day, but the crowd outside the Apollo House building on Dublin’s Tara Street is in good form. When Glen Hansard arrives a huge cheer goes up.
You could describe Hansard as one of the most prominent supporters of the Home Sweet Home protestors, who have taken over the building to shelter Dublin’s large, and growing, homeless population. In fact, however, he is more than that: here, he is an activist as well as a musician. He has clearly been instrumental in what he describes as an act of civil disobedience. Others involved, to one degree or another, include musicians such as Damien Dempsey, Christy Moore, Villagers and Aslan, actors Saoirse Ronan and John Connors, filmmaker Jim Sheridan, and drag performer and activist Panti. Dublin’s “Mattress Mick” has donated beds and blankets to the shelter.
Hansard’s intervention came about through talking to friends.
“It was conversations, it was compassion, it was empathy,” he says. “It was something we are sorely lacking over the last few years. There’s a general move in the world, unfortunately, back towards greed and selfishness. I guess, in a way, a bunch of concerned friends got together and started having conversations.
“It’s amazing what happens when you start talking about something – how the world seems to get behind you. People come out of the woodwork and say, ‘I might be able to help with that. Let me sit down with this person’. Before we knew it we were sitting in a room with a couple of hundred people going, ‘We all agree on the idea, what can we do?’”
Taking over Apollo House came about fortuitously, he explains.
“By chance, just by chance, this building came into view. We all sat and we talked long and hard about it. There were people willing to come in here and this building was taken. We saw the opportunity and we moved in very peacefully. This is not about exclusion. This is not about us building a fort and locking everybody out. This is about housing people — not housing people, my apologies — sheltering people. That’s the government’s job to house them.”
Donations and offers of help have been pouring in since the occupiers took over the building. It is a brilliant and hugely welcome testament to the common decency of a huge number of ordinary citizens. However, what will be needed in time, says Hansard, is a longer term solution.
“The positive reaction has been incredible. What we need is to sustain this. The positive reaction, we’re so happy with it and it actually drives us on, and gives us the spirit. But what we can’t lose here is the humility of what we plan to do – which is to shelter people, at least until the weather changes, and hopefully engage the government in a conversation.
“This isn’t about anti-government, it isn’t about anti-NAMA, it’s about inclusion: will you come and talk? Simon Coveney – come on down and see the place. Just talk with us, because this is a conversation that needs to happen.”
Homeless people very often can’t vote because they have no address to register. This makes them voiceless and therefore easy for politicians to ignore. Musicians and actors, however, have loud voices. Hansard appeared on The Late Late Show to discuss the occupation and the larger issue of homelessness. Does he feel he has an obligation to lend his voice to social issues?
“It’s an interesting question and a question that’s difficult to answer because it involves the ego, and the ego is a very tricky thing. There I was last night talking to Ryan [Tubridy] and everything else — I’m giving my voice to this, but I am also looking around my friends and at other people. This is more than just a few singers and friends and actors. This is lots of people and they are all giving.”
It’s a popular movement?
The group has already received advice from homelessness campaigner Father Peter McVerry on how best to proceed. And there will be more consultations as they go. In the meantime, Hansard asks that anyone who wants to help continue bringing donations.
“So far it is doing what this lady is doing now,” and he points to a woman who is making a donation, “walking down here and handing stuff through the gate. It’s very kind and very generous. But to be honest with you, this is all brand new for us. We’re trying to figure it out. We got in, people are sheltered — the rest of it we’re figuring out.”