This is the second post of my response to Rowan Clarke’s four TPQ posts on the subject of Apollo House. Rather than trying to deal with his points through some thematic or logical grouping, it's easier for me to just go through his four posts in order of appearance and comment on the different points as he raises them.
Then Out Of Nowhere Came Apollo House
The idea that the Apollo House action came out of nowhere is a bit mystifying. Clarke declares that he is familiar with a number of the groups and individuals who took part in the action, including the Irish Housing Network (of which the author is a member), yet seems to think that the action somehow happened spontaneously.
The idea of occupying a NAMA building was first raised by the Unlock NAMA group back in 2012 and a couple of short-lasting occupations were actually attempted, although without any sustained success. A few years later in 2015 the empty homeless hostel on Bolton Street became the Bolt Hostel, with the intention of providing shelter to homeless people, when it was occupied by the IHN for nearly 2 months. The same judge, Gilligan, who sat on the Apollo House hearing, issued the eviction order back in 2015 against 2 IHN activists, one of whom went on to become one of four individuals responding to last month's hearing.
Anyone with more than a passing acquaintance with the housing struggle in Dublin in the last few years should have known this.
Pulling The Strings Of The Apollo Occupation
If Clarke seems to have doubts about the validity or agency of the public in general (by dismissing the response as “hysteria”), the dismissal of the agency of the veritable army of volunteers as the passive marionettes of a string-pulling puppet-master is politically indefensible.
For the record I spent 13 out of the 27 days working in Apollo House and at no time did I ever meet Brendan Ogle, Jim Gibney or Glen Hansard, nor did any instructions emanating from that quarter ever pass my desk or shape the work of the team of which I was a part. The idea that Ogle or any of the other high-profile names associated with the occupation in the media, had any day to day hands on role in the actual operation of Apollo House is not one that would be recognised by any of the 750+ volunteers who worked in Apollo.
It was the volunteers who brought in the skills and experience necessary to maintain the building, provide care, food, comfort and support to the homeless residents and run the IT, communications and admin to make all that possible. The idea that Ogle or the "mainstream musicians, famous faces and 'celebrity activists'" Clarke associates with him, were "pulling the strings" of the Apollo House action shows a lack of understanding of the kind of collective effort required to operate Apollo House, for which neither the Union or Artists groups had the necessary skills or experience.
I'm A Celebrity - Get Me Into There
Clarke opens by repeating the false accusation about HSH avoiding demanding social housing, and ascribing that to the supposed malign influence of the artists group. He then goes on to allege of the artists group "some present were certainly tax dodgers", without any names or evidence.
The unspecified shade thrown on the artists (and the mention of Mattress Mick's property portfolio), then gets blown up to HSH having "dalliances with landlords, property developers and business magnates". Again who these shadowy figures actually are is not explained.
What we can say is the IHN's participation in Home Sweet Home is dependent on this not violating any of our principles. Principle 6 states; "6. No member of the housing network can profit financially from those affected by the housing crisis.". So if Clarke or anyone else can bring forward information identifying anyone involved in Home Sweet Home who is profiting financially from the housing crisis - whether as a developer, landlord or other business interest, we would treat that information seriously. But as it stands, it’s a groundless smear.
Clarke moves on to asserting that through his experience and studies he has come to the conclusion that homelessness is "a very complex subject", which mirrors a line commonly trotted out by the charities in the homelessness industry. In the latter case, the same charities who get more funding the more homeless people are committed to their care, have a very clear material incentive to promote the idea that homelessness is too messy and too complex for ordinary people to do anything about and should be left to them, the professionals. Clarke obviously doesn't have the same motives for advancing that position, but he does echo the basic idea that caring for the homeless should be left to the professionals.
In fact one of the motivations of many of the people who volunteered for Apollo House, professionals included, was precisely to create an example of an alternative new model of how hostels could be run in a more humane and effective manner than the ones they had been forced to work in up until now. It was a chance to run a hostel in a way the current top managers of the "professional" charities of the homeless industry will not allow them to do in their paying jobs. Apollo House was an example of how workers can run their workplace in way better suited to the needs of the community when freed from the command and strictures of the bosses, charity bosses included.
We then get the bizarre statement from Clarke that:
It was presumptuous from the get go on the part of the organisers of the Apollo occupation that tying Homelessness and Housing together was ever going to be a success, as the two issues are mutually exclusive.
Considering that most of the world understands that homelessness and housing problems are inseparably linked, this statement is counter-intuitive, to say the least. Yet Clarke provides no further explanation, so we are left in the dark as to what his point is. Instead we get the next two sentences:
And the task of overseeing the care of such individuals is extremely problematic and requiring expert professional care the likes of which an ad hoc political occupation can never possibly offer even with some input from professionals, lending a hand over a few .... it's a long-term job to meet these people's specific needs which takes years.
The problem here is the blanket dismissal of "these people" as one monolithic undifferentiated mass of ‘others’ whose complex needs Clarke reduces to: "Addiction - mainly to Heroin and Alcohol - mental illness, habitual criminality and a myriad of other factors influence those who end up on the streets"
Without dismissing the role of addiction, mental health and other issues, the undercurrent of disdain here is a serious barrier to working with homeless people in a spirit of solidarity. Homeless people needed to be treated first of all as people, that is individuals with individual needs and problems. Not every homeless person is a heroin addict.
The huge ballooning of homelessness in Dublin and around the country is not due to some new escalation in addiction, etc, but the result of the housing crisis which is inseparable from the crisis of homelessness we are facing. To suggest the two issues can not only be dealt with in isolation to each other, but are in some way "mutually exclusive" defies all logic and common sense.
For the record, the strategy of the IHN is based on recognising that housing as an issue and the housing crisis, affects people differently, depending on their economic, social and property-related status, and that this creates a hierarchy of need and insecurity. The strategy of aiming to improve the security of those at the very bottom of this ladder of precariousness, is to put a floor under the whole edifice so that everyone affected, at whatever level, is less vulnerable to being terrorised by the threat of falling into homelessness. By fighting to end homelessness we aim to bolster the confidence of every person affected by the housing crisis, this strategy sees the struggle against homelessness as a vital support for the struggle to end the housing crisis and in no way mutually exclusive.
Before wrapping up, Clarke makes an unprovoked swipe at the IHN as "a core junta made up mainly of - some might say without sounding too disparaging - your typical hyper-Liberal finding themselves student types". Again I would be very surprised that anyone who has met any of the activists of the groups in the IHN would recognise this description.
Not The Housing Campaign We Hoped For
The first part of Clarke's final installment comments on the rumours that Ogle intends to set up a new political party on the back of the Apollo House action. Personally, as an anarchist, I don't really care for electoralism. But obviously the opinions of the rest of the Apollo House volunteers or the IHN may well differ from mine. However the IHN's principles cover our relation with political parties in this way:
‣ 3. Anyone who is a member of a political group, NGO, government body, etc. is welcome in the housing network, but while in the network they are working to empower those affected by the housing crisis, according to the needs and wishes of those affected, not according to the needs and wishes of their respective party or organisation. In short, political allegiances are left at the door.
Therefore, so long as the IHN are a part of Home Sweet Home it is not going to be transformed into a new political party.
Clarke then goes on to recycle the RTE smear regarding the empty Unite property. That’s already been since dealt with in the media, by Focus’ evidence, for e.g. But more to the point, Clarke simply ignores the central demands of the campaign about using NAMA properties to end homelessness.
Clarke then ends his piece with the conclusion that this is not the housing campaign himself and others have been waiting for, and he'll have to wait for one that does fit his particular vision to appear on the horizon.
As a take-away piece of advice for readers ‘better wait until something better comes along’ seems unacceptably passive for a self-declared community activist. Even if you decide that the strategy of the IHN and Home Sweet Home is not for you, you would still be well advised to start building the model of the housing campaign you want to see, rather than just sit and wait for somebody else to do it for you. Because otherwise you could be waiting a long time.
In the next section I will review the possible root causes of the differences between Clarke’s perspective and my own on the significance and achievements of the Apollo House action.