I met with Glen Hansard to talk about why he got involved with Home Sweet Home and how the Apollo House occupation was a success and what is next
How did your involvement with Home Sweet Home begin?
Over the last seven years every Christmas time, I would do gigs to raise money for the homeless charities in Dublin I have always had an interest in helping people out, when someone on the street asks me can you help me out, I always thought to myself instead of giving them a couple of euro Id give them ten, that might change their evening, try help them significantly or don’t help them at all try and make a difference. A friend of mine Dean Scurry approached me about ending homelessness, after a host of conversations I found myself sitting in the Unite offices in early December with the Irish Housing Network other artists and Brendan Ogle of Unite trade union and the Home Sweet Home campaign seemed to be on and it was another level of reality in comparison to raising money.
My true motivation for being part of Home Sweet Home was from what happened when I was a kid and how I ended up in hostels many, many times due to domestic violence at home and the need for my mam to bring us to hostels. I have a long term relationship with Women’s Aid in Dundalk trying to raise money because that is more close to me than anything else. My aunty died in homelessness on a park bench two years ago on Christmas day, I had an uncle die in homelessness, and my cousin was one of the first AIDS deaths in Dublin, her sisters also died from AIDS. So it’s in my family its personal to me.
The occupation of Apollo House was a very radical action and one that had never been tried out in Ireland before could you explain it a bit more?
I never intended to be the guy who went on the Late Late Show and announce we had occupied Apollo House, they happened to invite me on that night for something totally different and I took the opportunity . I didn’t realise what I was getting into, it was a burden and heavy burden to carry. I was nervous about it. When we went into Apollo House it was complicated and simple at the same time.
260 homeless and 200 beds in the system to let’s bridge the gap and house those 60 people. I very quickly I realised we were dealing with the most vulnerable of the most vulnerable. I had an idealistic idea of homeless who lost their home in the bank crash and sober and clean that’s not reality. I knew I wasn’t going to be running with Apollo that wasn’t my role in the project and I was very happy about that.
What was it like in Apollo?
The first few days Apollo felt terrifyingly chaotic and no one knew what they were doing. Within 3-4 days the place felt brilliant and things kept improving day by day. What was amazing everyone was willing to be able to listen to each other and learning and adapting so quickly? It was incredible, as the days went by it got calmer, more organised and everyone was feeling more relaxed by the time we were leaving it felt like a home. I have so much admiration for the volunteers and the Irish Housing Network for keeping it together in the beginning because it could have easily collapsed at any point in time. What I will never forget is how alive I felt in Apollo, every day the needle was on the record Apollo lives and dies on us and our energy and our decision making today. This lives and dies on our positivity today this lives and dies on how we deal with each issue that arises.
Did you think it would catch the hearts and mind of the Irish people as it did?
I hoped the Irish people would look at this intervention and say yes there are a few radical heads among them but there is organisation to it and ordinary citizens are helping each other out to fix the problem without going thru endless red tape and bureaucracy. Sometimes a sharp knife to cut right down the middle of the bullshit is needed, it will put a lot of noses out of joint but it gets the job done. I’d rather be asking for forgiveness than asking for permission and there was definitely an element of that in Apollo house lets be pro active, the buildings empty let’s use it, all we will be doing is embarrassing a couple of politicians so what! We should be proud of what we achieved.
What has Apollo achieved?
I think first and foremost for me it has opened people’s eyes and minds to the idea that community can help. We vote in a government to govern us and for some it works, if you have money you can afford private healthcare and your mortgage or your rent and you’re doing all right. I am one of them now I am not from that.
Then there are those such as my mother who would say “I never knew what the fucking Celtic Tiger was but I tell you what when it died we fucking paid for its poxy funeral” so the government continues to put this burden on those who are already stressed out of their minds, exhausted and they feel the system is just rigged against them. Then along came Apollo, a bunch of idealists trying to do some good and the people said fair play to them, I will send them a few quid on go fund me, I will wander up to Apollo tomorrow and give them a toaster. It was back to community and everyone thought they could help.
What’s next for Home Sweet Home?
That I don’t know to be honest, I personally don’t see HSH as a permanent intervention or else it just becomes another McVery or Simon Community. I hope there is another action but with someone else, I like the idea that maybe we inspired them somehow, that it is part of an ongoing development of community. I happen to have faith in the idea of community it not about anyone in particular; it’s about community and who is next to step up.