The reality of homelessness, the fight for decent housing and lessons from The Bolt hostel


Over the Last 12 months, particularly since Christmas the housing and homeless problem has deepened significantly. From last summer the amounts of families’ registering as homeless went from 264 to now, which are 531. The number of families that are registered as being in need of emergency accommodation is 792 adults with 1,112 dependent children. These statics were issued by the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive. This is a 100% rise within 12 months, but yet the state has not come out and said there is a crisis in housing.

Over the month of July the Homeless Executive stated there were at least 5 families sleeping rough on the streets of Dublin. Last week Inner City Help the Homeless (ICHH) reported while they were out doing their nightly soup run they discovered a family sleeping in a city centre park; while the kids slept the parents stood guard. There was a report of a mother and her 15 year old son having to sleep in A&E in Dublin.

This is just in Dublin, it has been reported the levels of child homelessness throughout Ireland is rising at 3 times the rate as it is rising in Dublin! In Dublin child homelessness has rose 44% in the last 6 months, outside of Dublin it has rose 130%.

It is barbaric that people have to sleep rough while there are 100s of thousands of empty house, flats and apartments scattered all over the country. The homeless group Inner City Help the Homeless state they have notice there has been a rise in young women sleeping on the streets. Dublin City Council (DCC) stated last week that they have maxed out their credit limit used by the Central Placement Service (CPS). And because of this people had to sleep rough which included a family that had to spend the night in an industrial estate.

The Dublin local authority homeless services which are responsible for finding accommodation for homeless people stated there is an “unprecedented demand”, in Dublin for emergency accommodation. “The average nightly placement by the local authorities in the Dublin region into emergency accommodation from April to June was 228”.

As more people are becoming homeless, hostels are filled to capacity; as homelessness is rising there is no more beds left in the hostels. DCC have started to pay for accommodation in hotel as and B&B’s for families that have become homeless.

The CPS maxed out its credit card because of the rise of homeless families coming on a daily bases to the local authorities looking for accommodation. The CPS pays for accommodation in hotels and B&B’s. They have to use these because they had no room left in state owned hostels. Altogether the state has payed 4.5 million euro between the months January and June.
“…, the significant challenge remains that the level of families presented to homeless services is not keeping a pace with the numbers of families that are moving out of homeless services and back into independent living” – spokeswoman for the CPS

When newly made homeless people go to DCC looking for emergency accommodation DCC gives them a number to call, when a person calls this number they are told where to go to pick up a sleeping bag. It’s not just individuals that are given sleeping bags to sleep on the streets, families are also handed sleeping bags to sleep rough. A few months ago it was individuals that were given sleeping bags, now people with children are given the same treatment as the CPS can’t cope with the rising numbers of homeless families.

The States solution to homelessness

The state is starting a campaign where it hopes to attract landlords into social housing leasing. Yet again the state is hoping to solve yet another problem by hoping the private sector will save the day. This will lead to failure as land lords and the private sectors aim is not to help people in need, but to line their own pockets, even at the mistreatment of the vulnerable.

A landlord’s aim is to make as much money as possible and spend as little as possible on maintaining their property, so this can lead to sever exploitation of tenants. There are many cases of people and families having to live in homes that have mold throughout the home which causes people to get sick and pick of infections. Ultimately it won’t be tenants or homeless people that will benefit, no, it will be landlords that will benefit from the states latest hair brain campaign.

People will be at the mercy of greedy landlords. The free market has never been able to provide decent housing for low paid workers or homeless people. In history past when low paid workers were left to the mercy of the free market they were left to live in slums. Slum neighbourhoods create all sorts of problems such as, high crime, addiction problems, higher death rates, etc.

The summer is now coming to an end; seasons are changing; it won’t be long before the winter and its bad weather is upon us (not that the summer has nice weather). Many poor unfortunates will have to sleep rough, how many of these people will lose their life this year from the cold? What will the state do this time? Will they issue more beds and open up a few halls to turn into hostels? Oh wait, didn’t that happen last year over the holiday season? State bureaucrats and representatives of capital shed a few crocodile tears. It didn’t take long for the tears to dry up; by the end of January the extra beds were gone.

The fight back: solidarity, direct action and mutual aid in action

Over the summer we have seen community housing groups and homeless join forces to create the Irish Housing Network (IHN). The network took part in a few direct actions along with people in need of housing, against the state which included occupations of council buildings and the department of environment. The Irish Housing Network took an even more radical step forward by liberating a vacant state owned homeless hostel. The network took this radical step after they seen that discussions with the heads of DCC, South DCC, Dublin Regional Homeless Executive and the department of Environment came to nothing. The network came to the conclusion that the state bureaucracy was not going to do anything soon that would help to decrease the rising homelessness and help prevent people from becoming homeless.

Enough was enough; the activists took matters into their own hands. The bureaucracy claims there is a shortage of available properties; the IHN response is there are plenty of vacant properties throughout Dublin. A disused, state owned hostel was sourced by supporters. The supporters entered and secured the building. Right away the affiliated groups of the IHN put call outs and shout outs to all people that could help with the hostel. Many people including many trades’ people came forward to help and many people dropped off loads of donations which included beds, blankets, pillows, sheets, towls, clothes, food, drink, sofas, microwaves, TVs, DVD players, stereo system, paint, fire extinguishers and many other donations.

Volunteers came from all over Dublin and from other counties to lend a hand, pitch in, and give their solidarity. Many people from the local community from Dominick street flats dropped by and gave their support. The hostel was soon christened “the Bolt hostel”. The aim for the Bolt hostel was to house homeless families while they waited for emergency accommodation from the state. Instead of having to sleep rough on the streets and in parks the Bolt could provide a safe place for at least 6 families’. The IHN had open days where anyone could drop in and see the progress being made to Bolt as volunteers fixed up the building. The IHN had a family fun day held in Dominik Street Flats where the children made a banner for the Bolt hostel, which was later hung from the Bolt.

The activists that make up the IHN come from a variety of backgrounds, some are single mothers, community actives, public sector workers, housing and homeless activists, socialists, anarchists and some are just pissed off with state of affairs in Ireland. What unites them all is the struggle of decent housing for all.

The Bolt hostel lasted 2 months; they didn’t quite achieve what they wanted to achieve which was to house homeless families. But they housed a mother with her 3 children, a couple and a few individuals over the 2 months. The Bolt also got loads of media attention being either in a newspaper, radio or TV nearly every day it was open; it helped to highlight the ever growing housing and homeless problem. The struggle was highlighted and reached people that might have not knew much about the problem; and it also destroyed the states lies and myths that there is no buildings, houses, apartments or flats that can be used to house people.

On the 14th of August the IHN officially left the Bolt Hostel. The reason why the IHN left the Bolt was because of the following:
After 7 weeks of occupying the Bolt DCC put in for an injunction against the occupants of the Bolt in the High court. 28th of July the court ordered that no more maintenance to the Bolt was to be carried out and that council bodies were to be allowed in to inspect the building. A few days’ later safety and fire inspectors inspected the Bolt. After the inspection the inspectors gave a list of urgent safety hazards what needed fixing. These hazards were created from when the building was boarded up, when a building is not used it starts to damage, the longer a building stays empty the more damage is caused. The IHN had the trade’s men and could source the materials needed to fix the damages, the IHN hands were tied, and the court had ordered that no more maintenance was to be carried out. There was a lengthy debate and discussion within the IHN, they came to the conclusion that they had to find accommodation for the people staying in the Bolt hostel and once that was achieved the IHN would vacate the Bolt.

If the IHN was to disobey the court order, 2 members of the IHN that had their names on the injunction would have be prosecuted. Because of this the IHN and the residents of the Bolt hostel collectively decided to vacate the Bolt.

What has been learned from the Bolt hostel?

The volunteers that helped to fix up the Bolt shows it really doesn’t take that much money to fix up buildings; the state saying it hasn’t the founding is a lie. The IHN hadn’t a cent to put into the Bolt, everything was donated. We have learned the state is sneaky in its tactics to put an end to the Bolt (although this is not a new discovery, the state is sneaky in all its tactics). We have learned hard tasks can be achieved by people when they come together and fight and struggle for it. Even though the Bolt was snatched back by the state, all the volunteers and activists achieved a lot over the 2 months.

They made a building that disused vacant for over 3 years liveable, they decorated the rooms, got furniture for the rooms, electricity worked throughout the building, there was running water throughout the building, working showers with hot water, cookers and they helped house homeless people (although not as much as they wanted). The Bolt hostel united many people that were pissed off with the state of affairs in Ireland, the Bolt brought people together in struggle against the state.

The Bolt proves people power does work. Sometimes you hear people say “all humans are naturally greedy and only look after their own individual interests”, I think maybe there is a sprinkle of truth in this. But instead of “all humans are naturally greedy…..” It’s the top lair of society that is greedy, the rulers, the government, the corporate gangsters, the property developers, the corrupt elites, etc. But most humans will give charity, help others in need, give what they have spear to the needy or support others that need support even if it is in a small way. The majority of humans are the opposite of greedy, we don’t only look after our own interests, but we are also compassionate.

Words: Joe Conlon