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Apollo House: channel for change

Each story becomes a channel for change: Rosi Leonard interviews one of the people who sheltered in Apollo House

Josephine Campbell (not her real name) volunteered for the media team in Apollo House during the 28 day occupation, which saw a vacant NAMA building transformed into a shelter for people sleeping rough. In total, 205 people stayed as residents in Apollo House.

“I’m currently without a home or a tenancy since May 2015. Before this I was 15 years living in the same area. We had to move out due to a rent increase of €400 a month. Myself and my son, who is in sixth class were forced to stay with my elderly parents on the other side of town, after months of looking for a place to live and staying between friends’ houses, usually on couches. Now we are in overcrowded conditions, sleeping in the same room with no space for our belongings. We travel across town every morning to get to school. When we moved, everything we owned had to either be destroyed or stored in friends’ houses. We are still living out of bags, seventeen months after. I’m eleven years on the Dublin City Council waiting list.

I was never involved in any housing campaign before Apollo House. I only knew I wanted to help so I signed up a few days after the occupation. The day before I signed up I had passed a man outside Stephen’s Green shopping centre. It was freezing out. I gave him some food and asked had he a place to stay that night. He said he hadn’t. I wrote him out the details of Apollo House and said he should to go there, that he’d be safe. I don’t know if he went in the end, but It was the first time I’d felt I could actually do something, just giving him the details was enough to feel like I was helping in some way.

Everyone who entered Apollo House had no idea what they would be faced with when they went in. I don’t think anyone was aware really what a success it would become.  Everyone thought, “I’ll do a few hours then I’ll head off”. From day one I stayed 12 to 14 hours without noticing the time go by. There was an all-consuming energy the minute you walked in the door. That energy was care, love and determination, alongside all the issues we were faced with every day stretching from the residents needs to the media backlash.

The day-after-day change in the residents was astounding, from coming in tired, weary, pale, and very unhealthy, to getting three meals a day, the colour back in their face, feeling empowered and feeling their voice was heard. I really think it brought out the very best in everyone. There is something quite magical in that. It is why it worked so well, only good can come from good. The Apollo Alchemy is a huge catalyst for change.

After Apollo, I feel more than ever that people like me, who are living this crisis every day, have a voice. We are all affected. Once you start to see just how horrific the situation really is, it is very hard just to ignore it. Apollo House brought this to the fore, the isolation and loneliness you feel when you’re affected by homelessness and how to beat it. It highlighted the standard of care people should be receiving, from 24-hour beds to the supports they need to become part of society again. This is breaking the cycle of poverty. You can’t put a person in substandard care and throw them out again. All people need proper support, love and care.

What would success be? Success would be to increase the standard of care for those currently living on the streets and to give vulnerable people support. Success would be more public housing. I feel the funding given towards the private rental market (HAP & RAS) was counterproductive. There is still no security of tenure or available property for rental, particularly in Dublin. There is also the need to prevent homelessness, not just deal with it after the fact.

The homeless crisis is so bad that it is starting to normalise horrendous conditions. People think because I have somewhere to stay that it’s ok. But it’s not, and neither is living in tents, cars or parents’ houses, or paying your entire earnings just to put a roof over your head. All volunteers have a story.  Each story becomes a channel for change. I know what it is like to lose everything. I lost my home, my neighbours, my community. My son lost everything. If my experience helps anyone else feel less isolated or alone then I will continue to fight for housing rights.

Rosi Leonard is involved in The Irish Housing Network and in Home Sweet Home.