Home Sweet Home: Newstalk goes inside Apollo House

Newstalk reporter Sean Defoe takes a look at life inside Apollo House, speaking to residents and volunteers.

Home Sweet Home: Newstalk goes inside Apollo House

Home Sweet Home t-shirt outside Apollo House in Dublin. Photo: Rollingnews.ie

Apollo House has become many things to many people over the past few weeks. A home, a cause, a nuisance - but for the security guards manning the gates it's their castle.

A large team sizes us up before deciding whether or not to buzz us in to the NAMA occupied building. Once we're through, we're led up an old fire escape, passing the Apollo House dog (a rottweiler who was also homeless until a week ago), and into the building.

Every guest has to sign in, assessed by one of the small army of volunteers buzzing around the common area on the first floor. It takes up most of that floor - with some of the residents watching TV, others playing pool and some even getting their nails done.

One resident shows off her newly painted nails, telling us jokingly that the next man in line is getting his eyebrows done. This is just one example of the sense of community that Apollo House residents feel they don't get in other emergency accommodation.

It brings the residents back to a comfort zone from where they can resume a level of normality and stability in their lives for a while. It was even enough for one man, who wants to be known as M, to get down on one knee on Christmas Day and propose to his partner.

"It's only for the Apollo that wouldn't have happened" he said.

"It gave us the opportunity to settle for Christmas. The last five Christmases we were sleeping in hostels - kicked out at 9 in the morning, let back in at 9 at night. It's no way to spend Christmas Day."

Their room is better than many properties you would regularly see going on DAFT.ie for €1,500 a month. M jokes it's down to the decorating skills of his girlfriend. The newly-engaged pair had been on the streets for years because many hostels won't take couples, and they preferred to be together on the streets than separated. 

It's not the only downside to some of the emergency accommodation out there. Another couple, John and Barbara, tell us the fact that Apollo House has a no drink or drugs policy is a big comfort to them.

"They've put me into dormitories with 6 or 7 other girls and like 4 or 5 of them could be active heroin users" says Barbara. They both say there's a risk of stepping on needles in many other hostels, and feel they can't speak up about it.

"If you do say 'I'm not happy with what you are doing' then you're going to wake up the next morning with a needle beside your head" Barbara adds. "That's kind of like a warning, a threat sign. You either shut up or you're going to have something done to you."

The sixth floor of Apollo House is used to store donations from different companies and there is a room packed with piles of clothes, books, sleeping bags, toasters, cutlery and other goods.

They're getting in so much stuff that an outreach team has been organised and they are packaging up sleeping bags, warm clothes and food for those still on the street. Residents who were in doorways themselves two weeks ago are now out trying to help others.

They're getting good nutrition as well with professional chefs giving up their time after their day jobs to help. Stirring a big pot of soup as she talked, chef Helen Manning described the menu:

"Today they had Shepard's Pie and a curried cauliflower and potato soup. Tomorrow they've got a chicken pasta bake, homemade burgers, vegetable soup and apple crumble.

"It is about trying to get as much into them as possible but also mindful that they're used to being out on the street. It can be hard sometimes to introduce flavours that could affect their metabolism in ways they don't really want" she added.

All minds now though are turning to January 11th, the day the court has ordered them to vacate the building. Some want to stay, but don't want to run the risk of being arrested in case they lose their jobs or put the chance of getting a house in future at risk.

It's now a community in Apollo House, and they're going to come together over the next few days to discuss what to do next.

Many believe it's a straight choice - this time next week they'll either be in Apollo House, or sleeping in the doorway of McDonalds.