A Real Democracy: Occupation By Irish Rough Sleepers, Activists, Unions and Artists Creates A Collective Home

A Real Democracy: Occupation By Irish Rough Sleepers, Activists, Unions and Artists Creates A Collective Home

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Apollo House. Photo by Irish Live

In a citizens’ "act of defiance" aimed at rescuing the homeless from Dublin's cold wet streets, a radical coalition of housing activists, homeless people, trade unionists and hundreds of volunteers have taken over an empty office building and turned it into collective housing - kitchen, lounge, private rooms - for about 40 people. The direct action that created Apollo House a few weeks ago has met with massive public support in an Ireland battered by austerity, inequality, and growing homelessness, with thousands homeless despite almost 200,000 vacant buildings and boarded-up homes across the country. "We have people sleeping and dying on our streets," says one advocate. "We have tax breaks for the rich and crumbs for the rest."

After a "scandalous" lack of political will to make change "crossed the threshold of indecency" in many minds, one longtime rough sleeper started a campaign on Facebook he dubbed Home Sweet Home; it became the group of housing campaigners that soon occupied a former office building under receivership in downtown Dublin, part of a series of grassroots actions that some see as "the New Politics." Apollo House was brought to life by union members behind the earlier Right2Water and Right2Change campaigns, an Irish Housing Network of left-wing housing advocates, a number of artists and musicians, support from a reported 75% of the public, and contributions from hundreds of volunteer carpenters, electricians, doctors, techies, barbers, social workers, fundraisers, cooks, activists and others accumulating "bags and bags, and boxes and boxes" of food and other donations now taking up an entire floor of the building.

After officials took the group to court, an injunction was issued this week ordering the occupiers out by January 11. But the public support means that careful negotiations and compromises are still underway; those include the announcement that eight residents of Apollo House will leave to receive longer-term housing, with their beds given to others in need, while other long-term housing options continue to be explored.

Organizers with the Irish Housing Network say Home Sweet Home "has changed the game" - because it was finally time, and because its objective is "urgent, practical, and yet also profound...It is about saving lives." Some suggest it's also about beleaguered people fighting back against the times and their own powerlessness. "Apollo, and the public response to it, is evidence of a re-awakened spirit of the Irish people... now standing up for social justice," says one advocate. "People are leading where the Government has failed."

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

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