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APOLLO HOUSE

A year on from the Apollo House occupation, Home Sweet Home co-founder Dean Scurry reflects on the campaign’s remarkable impact – and how Irish society needs to build on its legacy.

- By Michael Lanigan

A year on from the Apollo House occupation, Home Sweet Home co-founder Dean Scurry reflects on the campaign’s remarkable impact – and how Irish society needs to build on its legacy.

Reflecting on the impact of the Ƃpollo House occupation £Ó months on, Home -weet Home co-founder Dean -curry q who is also the manager of hip-hop act *aul Ƃlwright formerly Žnown as ethal Dialect® q says it was an attempt to tacŽle the homeless crisis from a different angle. Ƃ huge national story that highlighte­d one of the maor issues in modern rish society, the protest q led by a number of high-profile personalit­ies including Glen Hansard and im -heridan q saw a team of activists taŽe over the ama-owned building on Tara -treet in Dublin. n a short period, they renovated the premises so that it could house homeless people over hristmas.

º7hat people are seeing now is an alternativ­e set of options for those who are homeless,» says -curry. º t offered something different. *eople had a place to co-habit based on feelings and being loved, and one where they weren½t going to be ŽicŽed out. t½s something rare, even in our current homeless services. f you talŽ to people who are using them, they will say that they have options, but few that are safe or healthy, whether they are choosing streets or hostels.

º or a person who is attempting to breaŽ away from addiction, even a hostel is difficult, because you½re facing that plight in there. t is a place where you can½t spend time with family or loved ones, where you cannot feel intimate. 7e wanted to offer such an option, and find a space where they could have time to feel emotions, to embrace spirituali­ty and feel free. Humanity and love were what was going for.»

-curry also notes that the occupation successful­ly highlighte­d the serious flaws in the government½s approach.

ºThe language of the media and government was also stripped away,» he says. º7hen stood down at the gates to address the media and the people, thinŽ we had to get across the fundamenta­l point that homelessne­ss was not an identity. t was a situation forced upon a person by circumstan­ces, as opposed to being their identity. That idea we set out to challenge, and really, it was such a big one. ecause in confrontin­g that, you maŽe the case that people are more important than profit or property.»

GAME CHANGER ndeed, this was precisely the reason for Home -weet Home½s selection of Ƃpollo House. *rior to its occupation on the night of December £x, the premises had been vacant for one year, after previously acting as offices for the Department of -ocial *rotection. Due to be demolished, the tearing down of the building was widely seen as an act of callousnes­s, given that there was an estimated ÓÈä rough sleepers in the capital. 7ith ama now in charge of the building, Home -weet Home suggested they use it to help alleviate the homeless crisis q although as -curry points out, it was a maor battle to taŽe on.

º7e eÝperience­d the full power of the state, the media and the High ourts saying this was something that we couldn½t do,» he says. º t½s very easy to strip down an activist or a member of the worŽing class.»

However, what bolstered the campaign was support from the liŽes of Glen Hansard and im -heridan. ºThis was part of a necessary tactic,» says -curry. º7e needed a face placed before these eyes that was one they could recognise. The media was familiar with im, as were our targeted audience of middle reland. They don½t Žnow Dean -curry from allymun. im spoŽe their language and informed them after decades of living comfortabl­y numb.

º ow that they are getting sµueeâed too, it is becoming their conversati­on around the dinner table. This does affect them, since they are ¼potentiall­y homeless½. "ur media coverage was strengthen­ed by Glen½s appearance on The Late Late Show, which was filmed the night we went into Ƃpollo House.»

-curry says one of the real game-changers was social media, which proved to be an invaluable way to communicat­e the campaign½s agenda. Home -weet Home itself emerged overnight as a acebooŽ group set-up by +uentin -heridan, who had spent Ón years homeless ºon and off». However, it was the platform½s live streaming service, which had been rolled out almost eÝactly one year prior, that became a Žey news tool in the final months of Óä£È.

º efore we started using the platform,» says -curry, ºthis was about Óä people in a room q a few scruffy hippies, im -heridan and allymun bloŽes liŽe myself. Ƃdding social media, we suddenly went from âero to Èx,äää followers in a weeŽ. rom an rish activist viewpoint, that was phenomenal. 7e held our own conference­s and during those, tooŽ my phone out to stream it. There and then, hundreds of people were watching from all across the world. t was powerful, and it became a time when we could also turn the lens on ournalists too, to show how they were covering this and reacting.

º t wasn½t a case of us hacŽing the system. t was us learning to use its tools, which gave us confidence in every respect. onfidence is a deadly weapon, and it meant we longer would obey. This of course wasn½t accidental. t was premeditat­ed and carefully thought about and because of that, we shared these ideas not typically shared by government or traditiona­l media.»

NO DEMOCRACY

-curry had been an activist for years, although he notes, ºbeing where ½m from, it½s not really by choice. n allymun, you almost turn into an activist by default. ½m here whether liŽe it or not doing this until there½s more eµuality.» *reviously, he had taŽen part in the "ccupy Dame -treet protests, which called for the

entral anŽ to be held accountabl­e for the financial crash. However, he suggests that campaign faltered around a lacŽ of a clear message or obective.

ºThis time, we had to maŽe it obvious,» he says of Home -weet Home. ºThere were two obectives. "ne, nobody should die on the streets over hristmas. 1nliŽe with "ccupy, this was not a concept too big to be sold. "ur second was to end homelessne­ss, and said this at the gates, even if people said you could never truly end it.

º7e Žnew the solution to rish society would not be created in four weeŽs. 7hat we were doing was starting the conversati­on, because it needed to be addressed at some point.

º couldn½t let the centenary of £™£È pass without properly marŽing it. reland has values, and as we celebrated those values, felt we should give them to the most vulnerable people.º

7hen it came to recognitio­n, -curry recalled one visit he and his colleagues paid to a primary school in -words. ºThey staged a play in rish called Teach Apollo. t brought tears to my eyes. 7e saw a £ä- year-old girl play a homeless woman who died on the streets and whose body is dragged away. That blew my mind,

º"ur current issue is democracy, which am not sure there is. f the people want to call for an emergency, and the figures they elected to serve will not acŽnowledge this, then there isn½t a democracy. 7e still need to carry on having the awŽward conversati­ons as people with vested interests throw in their two cents, such as

ileen Gleeson QDirector of the Dublin Housing ,egional ÝecutiveR, who said homelessne­ss was caused by ¼bad behaviour½. 7e need to challenge this,» Dean concludes. º f there½s no respect given towards individual­s, there isn½t a democracy.»

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