At this very moment, the homelessness figure stands at 9,846 people and soon threatens to reach a skyrocketing figure of 10,000. Children now represent 1 in 3 homeless people in Ireland, and under Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy homelessness has increased by 25%. In homes across Ireland the same loud sigh and grumble of “that’s terrible” can be heard over images of children sleeping in Garda stations on the news. However, this constant and worsening problem tends to momentarily interrupt our day while the 9,846 people remain merely a statistic, hidden but in plain sight to all who want to look.
When one abstracts societal problems like this into pure statistics, it tends to lessen the actual gravity of the situation. Yet, the reality is that you cannot walk down a single main street in Dublin without seeing people from every walk of life calling that particular path or shop-front their home. The housing crisis extends even further to affect students and young families, in which people are forced to pay extortionately high rent for unsafe and unhygienic dwellings, as their landlord holds them in a vice-grip. Many people feel as though they must do something to aid the homeless yet find that donating money or arguing about the state of current affairs has no tangible effect on a street level, especially when government policy remain rigid and won’t rise to meet them. However, this brutal market landscape and the need for an organised public reaction has paved the way for grassroots led collective Take Back the City – Dublin.
In August of this year, 120 tenants were told to vacate within 48 hours from numerous properties in Summerhill, due to alleged “fire safety reasons.” In response to this, activists from over 18 different direct-action groups made their way to the property and occupied it in order to highlight the effects of the housing crisis and to pressure local councils and the government to convert these semi-derelict properties into some form of public housing, as those who currently own them solely plan to use these premises for profit. Afterward, their gaze turned to an idle property on Belvedere Court and on Frederick Street, in which landlords left a large building idle for over three years before planning to turn a profit in establishing a guest house on the premises. This would have yet again failed to provide fair and affordable options for those in need of somewhere to live in Dublin.
Following the three-week long occupation, on September 11th, balaclava clad private security contractors arrived in an unmarked van and stormed the premises with electric saws and power tools. They were accompanied by mask covered Riot, Public Order and K-9 units stationed outside the property. Five activists were arrested, and numerous activists were injured in confrontations with the unmarked security contractors and Gardai, in and around the site. That evening, a large crowd of activists marched to Store Street Garda station in order to demand the release of those arrested earlier that day. Following a long standoff at the station and a series of chants and rousing speeches, those held in custody were released. Further solidarity marches in and around O’Connell street were then organised on September 12th as a means of standing against landlord aggression allowed to occur and were actively protected by the Gardai.
Ultimately, the actions of the Take Back the City network simultaneously provide a way for those who are directly affected by the housing crisis and for those who are tired of watching the government operate an unworkable housing strategy, find strength in numbers and represent each other in the face of those who seek to exploit them. It is absolutely imperative that homeless people, students and homeowners have their voices heard, and it seems that direct action provides a means to achieve this. Merely discussing a problem desensitises those involved, while the sole driving force of housing reform can only occur in the future through these types of movements. They engage politically conscious people and those who view themselves as not, this forms the basis of the power behind their movement, as they can engage and sympathise with most elements of the population.
As it stands the mismanagement of the housing sector, the refusal to tackle exploitative landlords and a refusal to listen to the average person at the hands of the government has brought together activist and citizen alike in a fashion that could stimulate a national movement for positive change, led by people traditionally seen as overly docile in regard to national political matters. I believe that Take Back the City – Dublin is only the beginning of a movement on a much larger scale that can tackle this crisis from the ground upwards, as it is from this angle in which we can achieve future reform.
By Aaron Collier – Features Writer