News Irish News

Saturday 21 April 2018

'This place is a dream factory' - The haven inside Apollo House

David Collins in his room at Apollo House Picture: Colin O'Riordan
David Collins in his room at Apollo House Picture: Colin O'Riordan
apppollo house 3
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

"Welcome to the Apollo mansion," we are told as we step off the fire escape and into the country's most famous abandoned office block.

There is no sign of a break-in and a security guard sits inside the door with a licence strapped to his arm. It remains unclear how the occupants of Apollo House made their way inside the property on December 15, but they are able to come and go as they please.

As we sign the log-in book and a Home Sweet Home confidentiality agreement, the heat hits us.

Apollo House not only feels warm and dry, but secure and safe. The security guards are not volunteers and are being paid to be here.

Voices and conversation mix in the air with a smell of vegetables roasting in the kitchen.

Beyond a volunteer-manned sign-in desk lies a huge open-plan office that has been transformed into a communal living room.

Mark and his partner in their room at Apollo House Picture: Colin O'Riordan
Mark and his partner in their room at Apollo House Picture: Colin O'Riordan

A giant television stands in one corner surrounded by furniture and couches. Behind them are four long tables where people who otherwise would have been on the streets sat and had their turkey dinner on Christmas Day next to a giant tree. There is a pool table to help pass the time and the night before we arrived the residents made their own ping-pong table.

Tom Ryan (28) is a volunteer acting as our tour guide with Mark, a resident.

Both are homeless but Tom does not live in Apollo House.

He is a recovering alcoholic who has been living in Dublin Simon homeless services for a year-and-a-half. He has been sober for 13 months.

"This place is a dream factory," he insists.

"It could be a different type of hostel on every floor. It could be a wet hostel, a dry hostel and there could be a range of different services here if [Housing Minister] Simon Coveney would wake up and realise what we are doing.

Donated clothes, bedding and toiletries stored in the donations room. Photos: Colin O’Riordan
Donated clothes, bedding and toiletries stored in the donations room. Photos: Colin O’Riordan

"Leinster House is empty," he adds during our tour. "We should have gone there and occupied that while they were away."

There are tea and coffee making facilities lined on a table outside the kitchen. Inside, Desmond Gallen, a volunteer and chef, is preparing dinner with the help of two others.

"I've been here since Christmas Day. The hob isn't great but we are still turning out about 80 meals per day."

The kitchen is also being used to facilitate soup runs.

Donations have been so vast that the residents have more food than they can use. It is kept on the floor in separated piles. One mound of breakfast cereals is more than four feet high. The boxes of teabags looks like a mecca for any emigrants who struggle to get their preferred Lyons or Barry's in far-flung corners of the globe.

"Coveney should come here and see all of this," says Tom.

"He hasn't the balls," adds Mark, "and if he did, I'd hop off him. He has done nothing for homeless people like us."

Mark (25) has been homeless for seven years.

Upstairs we meet David Collins, a 27-year-old alcoholic from Lusk, Co Dublin, who has been homeless for 18 months.

Apollo House is a dry facility with no drink or drugs allowed inside the gates. David said it was exactly what he needed.

"I got myself in a bad way and ended up sleeping rough on the streets. I heard about this place, came up, got my name down on a list and got in a few days later.

"The help they have given me is second to none. I feel fantastic."

Many of the residents are unsure about where they will be after January 11, the date they have been ordered to vacate the property by, but David expects to be in treatment by then for his alcohol addiction.

"I have been linked in with Tiglin [an organisation with programmes for addicts] for a 16-month programme with housing from work to everything. That's exactly what I need."

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News