‘We feel let down by the State’ – former residents of Apollo House

Home Sweet Home says it intends to use the remaining €128,000 it raised to end homelessness in Ireland

‘We feel let down by the State’ – former residents of Apollo House

Image: RollingNews.ie

On Thursday night, Jim Sheridan’s documentary ‘Inside Apollo House’ aired on TV3, chronicling the efforts of the Home Sweet Home campaign to provide shelter for homeless people in an occupied NAMA building last Christmas. 

The film features an account of how volunteers felt during their time in the building, as well as the Irish public’s response.

While Apollo House made a tangible difference to the lives of its residents, homelessness is very much still a national problem. The latest statistics from the CSO have shown that homelessness in Ireland has risen to an all-time high, reaching over 7,000 in January of this year. 

Following the occupation of Apollo House, 90 residents were granted 6-month beds and a further 205 were given assistance accessing some form of accommodation.

Newstalk caught up with some former residents to see what life has been like since they left the building.

Image credit: Andreas Riemenschneider

Mark Seenan and Cheryl Murphy

Anointed by the media as the ‘Apollo House couple’, Mark Seenan and Cheryl Murphy are currently staying in a six-month bed at the Peter McVerry Trust. Prior to their stay at Apollo House, the couple slept rough, feeling safer on the streets than Dublin’s emergency hostels.

“We’re in a room of our own now, which is great. But now that we’re in a hostel situation, we’re around some people who use drugs, which isn’t a good environment to be in when you don’t touch them at all,” says Mark, discussing his current living conditions.   

Mark and Cheryl say they feel let down by the State, and that were it not for the volunteers from Home Sweet Home, and the generosity of the Irish people, they would still possibly be sleeping on the streets. Mark says he’s been on the social housing list for eight years, and is yet to receive any form of accommodation.

“As far as the government is concerned nothing has happened,” he says. “They got us out of Apollo House, and now we feel like we’re being brushed under the carpet. Fingal County Council has not once approached me, or contacted me since we left. The government is still doing nothing to help us…But we feel like Apollo House at least got people talking about homelessness.”

Ultimately, the couple say, their goal is to have a place of their own.

“We’re trying to get social housing, but they try and bribe you with the HAP scheme – once you go on to it you’re taken off the waiting list for social housing,” Mark continues.

The House Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme is a government initiative in which local authorities pay private landlords directly to house people with long term housing needs.

Cheryl says that while she is grateful that her situation has improved, their accommodation leaves much to be desired, and is having a detrimental effect on their mental health.

“We can close the door behind us now, and it’s clean, but it sort of feels like not much has changed,” she says. “It’s very isolating. You’re in the room all day, just sitting there. And it can be very uncomfortable and lonely.

“Obviously where we are we have a roof over our head and we’re happy for now, but we want our own home. At the moment, though, we don’t feel like that’s ever going to happen.”

John*

Before coming to Apollo House, John was in a treatment centre for alcoholism in Galway.

“I finished my treatment on the 20th of December, and was supposed to go to a halfway house, but it was full. I didn’t know anybody in Galway, so I basically ended up homeless,” he says, describing his situation last year.

Homeless during the holidays, John sought assistance from the state, but was unable to secure any accommodation. By chance he heard about Home Sweet Home, and decided to travel to Dublin, eventually arriving at the gates of Apollo House.

“Before I got there, I was trying to imagine what it might be like, but it really exceeded my expectations. It was a genuine positive shock. There was a huge difference between Apollo and the other homeless centres. The staff engaged with you a lot more.” 

Since his time in Apollo House, John has managed to find employment, and is now living in a shared house. He says having a permanent place to stay, and a team of people assisting him to find long term accommodation was essential to his conditions improving. 

“I was trying to get help, but Christmas time is the worst because all of the offices are closed. I had stayed in hostels, but long term, that’s not helping anybody, because you just end up back on the streets in the exact same situation,” he says.   

“I’m working again now, and paying rent, which is great. I have my own room, and I’m finally getting back on my feet. I’m very lucky that I have a good group of people supporting me, so things will keep getting better, you know? Anyone can end up homeless, in the situation I was in, if they’re unlucky.”

The next steps

The Home Sweet Home campaign raised €189,604.75 between December 15th and January 27th, with some 4,000 people volunteering to help, and over 200 eventually working shifts.

€60,812.14 of the money was spent in total, including €39,970 on security, €2,926 on food, and €4,715 on ‘operating costs’ (including high-vis vests, wifi, printers, and stationary). Security was deemed a priority by the group following legal advice.

That leaves €128,790, which Home Sweet Home says will be used in the coming months for a campaign to end homelessness.

*Name changed for privacy reasons