So this thing is happening. A large, ugly, derelict, office block called Apollo House
was taken over by squatters five days ago. But not ordinary squatters. These people have turned the building into a homeless shelter. Many internationally known musicians and actors are supportive, some actively taking part. It was announced on the largest, oldest, talk-show we have (clip on twitter
). They are clearly owning that it is an 'act of civil disobedience'.
Brief background; Ireland's property market collapsed in 2008/2009, like many other places. A 'bad bank', NAMA (National Assets Management Agency) was set up to take on the bad debts of the other banks we were bailing out. It's still around. Initially it was sitting on its portfolio to avoid flooding the market with incredibly cheap property, and further destabilising the economy. But now it's sitting on it until the properties become valuable again. Until then all these properties are empty. During the largest homelessness problem we've ever had as a nation.
As was to be expected, they got the letter to vacate the premises, and are in court today
. The Government says there are enough beds for all the homeless. Clearly they haven't walked through Dublin after 7pm recently.
An aside; soup kitchens have been popping up all over the city. They are always extremely busy. But the mobile sort, with no permanent premises. I saw a sign at the beginning of the year on one building; 'Soup Kitchen opening June", then July, then August, then soon, and still there's nothing.
The activists are maintaining that since we, the taxpayers, bailed out the banks, bought those bad loans, that those buildings belong to us, the people. That having them vacant, and crumbling, while people die on the streets in winter is a disgrace.
In some ways it's complicated. The use of nationalist language, and involvement of nationalist groups, worries me especially. But at the end of the day, 30 homeless people have had somewhere to sleep this past week. That is a good.
What I don't see mentioned is that Apollo House is right beside the literally-falling-apart building of the Department of Health. Which I think is just a beautiful irony.
Also, across the narrow one-way street, is another initiative. In Place
. It's a collective of artists, doing things in a very hackerspace way. They are temporarily using the building, partly fixing it up, and have been for a few months now. The difference being, they did it with the permission of the landlord.
There is a lot of empty space around Dublin, people have been building maps
of it. There's an app in the Android store that allows you to point your phone at a building and the app overlays if it is owned by NAMA. Meanwhile Dublin is heading into another property bubble, with record high rents, and little to no protection for renters.
It's all very interesting. Something is changing.