Apollo House. Home Sweet Home
“Apollo House had strong, welcoming arms that hugged everyone who entered. “
I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I rocked up at the gates of Apollo House. I figured, feck it! It’s Christmas. I’ll offer my services for a couple of days in the run up. I’ll do my ‘chrimbo’ shopping tomorrow and that way I can sate my retail requirements whilst I balance my social conscience. However, once I’d stepped foot in there it was hard to leave. Apollo House had strong, welcoming arms that hugged everyone who entered. A place where magic roamed free.
” It was a place where magic roamed free.”
Amongst other therapies, I practice and teach a cool technique called ‘Be Activated’. It stimulates the nerve supply to muscles that have become dormant or confused. It’s used in various settings; from keeping athletes at the peak of their performance to people with neurological and muscular-skeletal dysfunction. It is also an effective tool in stress management and trauma release. I knew that the technique would be invaluable in this environment.
My first shift was on 21th Dec. The same day that the Peter Mc Verry Trust began working from within. I signed in, and was given a hi-viz blue vest to wear; ‘Support Worker’ team colours. After the handover meeting a friendly young woman called Natasha showed me around the building. The place crackled with frenetic energy as the organising chaos found its level and over the next few days ‘Home Sweet Home’ steadily developed into a strong, well grounded and effective organisation.
The 7th floor ‘The Operations Attic’ was home to admin, finance, outreach, media and the legal teams, and soon to be our wellness hub. If the main floor was the heartbeat then this was the brain stem. Back on the main floor the place buzzed. Two Christmas trees decorated the room. A lounge and a library area at one end, at the other, support staff liaised with residents and representatives of the Peter Mc Verry Trust. A medical team assessed, treated and referred people from the First Aid room. Key-workers gathered information, medical cards were applied for and in a kitchen across the way, the volunteer chef was making dinner.
“It wasn’t Mary Madeline. For one, Mary didn’t wear a head torch.”
In the midst of this maelstrom my eyes were drawn to a woman washing some fellas feet in a bowl of water and it wasn’t Mary Magdalene. For one, Mary Magdalene didn’t wear a head torch. This was Lorna Mauney-Brodek. The founder of the Herbalista Health Network. I quickly discovered that she was from Atlanta. She teaches workshops in herbalism, has worked on and off in the camps in Calais and treats the tired and sore feet of people who tread the streets. She’s also a deadly organiser and, within the space of an hour, she’d arranged a meeting with Maggie from Admin. The Apollo Wellness Team was hatched.
We scored a massage plinth from Lisa Wilkinson at The Elbowroom in Smithfield and a massage chair was loaned from Anna Drews via The Dublin Holistic Centre. ‘Self Care’ stations were erected and more volunteer therapists came and went. Emer, Aideen, Jess, Michelle, Christine et al. You rock! Between us we offered BAT-muscle activation sessions, foot care, massage and beauty therapy, yoga and chats. Each one of us bringing a different approach to a deserving community.
Some days I treated people who were so physically tired that their bodies were hypersensitive to even the lightest touch. Others were numb and a few, asleep on their feet. When the mind is overwhelmed, the body will run on auto pilot but it can only do this for so long before chronic fatigue, pain and injury arise. It was beautiful to observe as they they responded and decompressed.
Back in the day I was a nurse and a social work practice teacher. I’ve done stints on EDT. (emergency duty team) I’m not new to social inequality but I was side-swiped by the unfairness of how so many people found themselves in this predicament. I watched with admiration and ever growing respect as the volunteers delivered professional support with a single-minded objective; to find homes for the residents. Outside the media gossiped while the government polished their bifocals and sweated over how to deal with the unwanted attention. The public were behind us.
It was by far one of the best Christmases I have ever had. I’ve made lifelong friends. Laughed till it hurt. Felt sad and helpless. My waistline was destroyed by the steady stream of doughnuts – I never want to see another. I’ve learned so much about what it actually means to be homeless in Ireland. The term, ‘I’m on the free phone number.’ will haunt me. I now know that the majority of the new runners and tracksuits worn by people begging on the streets have been donated from excess and old stock from retail outlets. Hair cuts are given free by socially concious barbers. The idea that people would rather take their chances on the street or sleep on a yoga mat in a Night Cafe than stay a night in one of the hovels that are offered as temporary hostels is disturbing. In Apollo House the residents could go to sleep in a safe place and wake up in the same bed for a few consecutive nights; some for the first time in years. That made a critical difference to how they started their day, how receptive they were, how they functioned.
As people became more connected with the Home Sweet Home community the residents began to trust. One of them told me that she loved seeing our blue vests. She knew that we would help her if she asked. Stories were told over cups of tea and during treatments. Some were heart breaking and incredibly brave stories some tragic and to balance all of this there was laughter, lots of laughter and many, many hugs. The power of this community is immense.
The Home Sweet Home campaign has worked miracles. Its volunteers are selfless. Despite losing its premises the work continues. After-care support is being provided to the 75 or so people who have found homes through its doors. Home Sweet Home is still finding homes and it will continue to pressure the government into making the necessary changes in social housing and the bloated rental and over inflated property market.
I’m proud to be a part of it.