Phil Menton says his last stay in the Brú Aimsir Hostel on Thomas Street was eight weeks back. He was there for three nights. On the third morning, he left and didn’t go back.
He couldn’t hack the disgusting bathrooms anymore, he says. They were so bad, he walked the one and a half kilometres to Heuston Station to use the bathrooms there.
“You couldn’t go in and have a shower either as all the toilets were overflowing,” says Menton. “So many people go and then they don’t flush and then it gets too full to flush and then it floods everywhere.”
Many others who have stayed in the homeless hostel on Thomas Street in the Liberties tell graphic stories about the state of the bathrooms and toilets there: overflowing bowls, used needles scattered on the floor, and trails of blood.
However, the homeless charity Depaul, which runs the hostel, says staff make sure the toilets are up to par. “Every 15 minutes the toilets are checked by staff who are on throughout the evening,” says Sean Ellis, the charity’s communications officer.
Staff fill out a sheet, too, he says. “With a list of boxes that have to be ticked so it includes a list of things that they have to check off if they’ve done the check thoroughly.”
The Brú Aimsir has been open since October 2015. At first, it was a temporary winter shelter for people who usually sleep rough. But it was made more permanent.
There are 15 toilets in the emergency homeless hostel for men, which has 100 beds, says Menton.
Menton had been sleeping rough on Grafton Street. He would sleep between 8pm and 1am, after he saw other homeless people being attacked and robbed in the early hours.
Two months back, he went to the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) on Parkgate Street, and that’s when he was checked into the Brú Aimsir.
He complained about the toilets, he says, but was just directed towards other toilets – which were also filthy. (Another man said when he’d complained, staff at the Brú had cleaned up the toilets immediately.)
Menton watched the cleaner go around in the morning, he says. “She went around and said, ‘That’s blocked up and that’s blocked up.’ The cleaner wouldn’t even do it.”
One problem, says Menton, is that theft is so common in the hostels that you have to put your shoes under your pillow. So they’re there in the morning. “Otherwise they walk.”
But you can’t physically use the bathrooms without them, given concerns about health and safety. Which throws up a host of hygiene problems.
Ellis, of Depaul, says that as well as the four checks an hour during the night, contract staff also come and clean the hostel’s bathrooms and sanitary facilities each morning.
“I think they would be clean enough,” he says. (Depaul did not share details of its cleaning budget.)
But Ellis says he hasn’t been in the hostel at night, when those who stay there say the toilets are at their worst.
It’s a night-time only hostel, which means residents are allowed in at 7pm and made to leave again at 10am. During the night, it’s the night staff who are responsible for keeping the toilets clean, says Ellis.
“If there’s any complaints by service users they’re addressed immediately,” says Ellis.
If those who use the hostels still aren’t happy, though, they can also file a formal complaint, he says. This will be “reviewed by the Brú manager at the time” to make sure staff followed the procedures.
A spokesperson for the DRHE said it “actively manages complaints in collaboration with its NGO partners and service providers”, using these complaints “to learn, adapt and improve the services available to its clients”.
Every complaint is dealt with and investigated by “the appropriate department”, they said.
There’s no reference to procedures for cleaning bathrooms in hostels the National Quality Standards Framework for Homeless Services, a document drawn up by DRHE with the Department of Housing .
The document is supposed to help establish consistency in homeless services across different regions and to inform “service users” of what to expect.
It does say, though, that homeless services should have “regard to the needs of service users” and “provide adequate and clean accommodation, free from hazard”.
The framework, which began to be implemented in the Dublin region earlier this year, is due to be implemented nationally in the coming months, said a DRHE spokesperson.
Those who run emergency accommodation such as the Brú “are required to ensure that buildings should be suitable for their stated purpose”.
“Equally service users have responsibilities to ensure the safety and comfort of all service users,” the DRHE spokesperson said.
A survey of 126 people who have used homeless hostels in the city, carried out by Amarach Research in July and August, found that 40 percent thought cleanliness of hostels was poor, 53 percent thought it was average, and 7 percent through it was good.