The standoff between Dublin City Council and housing activists who had taken possession of a vacant local-authority property on Bolton Street to house homeless people, has become a stand-down.
On Friday 14 August, the Irish Housing Network released a statement on a Facebook page of the Bolt Hostel – as it was known – saying it had “officially relinquished control of the premises on 38/39 Bolton”.
That means the property is now vacant again, unused in this time of housing shortage.
On Tuesday, the activists’ banners, which earlier had run down the façade from the roof, were all gone.
From the outside, the only vestiges of the group’s activities in the building were copies of the injunctions against activists Seamus Farrell and Aisling Hedderman, cased in plexiglass, screwed to the grey metal doors; and on one of the doors, in black spray paint: “The Bolt”.
When the activists took over the hostel a couple of months back, they said it was to house homeless families in need of emergency accommodation. But aside from a few over-nighters here and there, that never really took off.
On 27 July, Dublin City Council took Farrell and Hedderman to court, claiming that they were trespassers. The hearing was adjourned until Tuesday 18 August, after a couple of orders were made by Justice Paul Gilligan. One was that there would be no further works on the building; another was that the council would be allowed to inspect the building.
On 31 July, there was a fire and safety inspection at the Bolt Hostel.
As the Irish Housing Network’s Facebook statement tells it, after the inspection, they were made aware of “major safety hazards arising from the buildings having been neglected for three years by Dublin City Council”. (Dublin City Council did not respond to questions – because of the court case, it said.)
That’s why the group decided to move out, the housing network said. The activists “decided as a network that we could not continue to operate the hostel if we could not conduct the urgent and necessary repairs to protect residents”.
Also, a long court battle would have placed restrictions on what the two activists could have said and the actions they could have taken in regard to such matters, “at a time when actions are only going to grow and every voice is needed”, the statement said.
A Mixed Reaction
Many city councillors were sympathetic to the attempt by housing activists to open up the vacant building.
It was a genuine response and drew attention to the crisis, said Sinn Fein Councillor Daithi Doolan, head of the council’s housing committee. “I think as long as the crisis continues like this, we can expect more of it,” he said.
Now he hopes that the council’s plans to work with a voluntary housing body, Novas Initiatives, to turn the building into social housing units will move ahead with speed. “The sooner that happens, the better,” he said.
If it doesn’t, the council risks an unfavourable comparison with how fast Farrell, Hedderman and Co. moved.
“In about three or four weeks, we were able to do up a premises, have it ready and have people housed in it during that period, something DCC thinks is impossible to do,” Farrell said. “We’ve showed that it can be done.”
While they had to move on from the Bolt Hostel and the court injunction was a dampener, Farrell says the activists still feel like they’ve achieved a lot. “Overall, we’re very happy with what the Bolt has done. It raised awareness, got people and communities involved. That was a good thing,” he said.
“It has helped housing and homelessness activists to get together and get involved and there’s going to be a bigger effort needed now over the next coming months.”
In the Neighbourhood
On Bolton Street, not all of the business owners were sad to see the group go. Dorothy Pawlic, who runs the barber’s right next door, said she was happy to hear they were gone.
She said they were leaving rubbish bags outside her shop, blocking her shutters. How did she know it was the people from the Bolt? “The bags weren’t there two months ago,” she says.
Pawlic was also worried that the hostel would be run like the one the city council ran before it closed down three years ago. She said guests had to be out at a certain time in the morning and couldn’t get back into the hostel until 8pm.
They would hang around outside her barber’s, she said. Sometimes, when it was cold, they would come in and pretend to be customers and sit on her couch. When she was finished a cut, about to serve the next person, they would get up and walk out.
She didn’t blame them, she said, but it wasn’t good for business.
Margaret Granahan, owner of the letting agency a few doors down, couldn’t agree more. She said the guests were bad for business.
Before, when it was a council hostel, she says, people were hanging around drinking on the street, “drinking right outside my window”.
Another business owner who didn’t want to be named because he “has to be all things to all people”, disagreed with Granahan.
He felt the street was suitable for a homeless hostel because the area was full of young people and not families.
What about the issues that the others raised about the previous hostel, which had people waiting to get in at 8pm, hanging around the street?
That was a problem with the hostel, he said, not the people. What else are they going to do but hang around?