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Wet hostels reduce street drinking, violence and free up hospital beds visits Depaul’s Sundial House in Dublin.


MOVING AN ALCOHOLIC from cider to stout can have a huge impact on the behaviour, health and wellbeing of residents in a wet hostel.

That is just one small lesson that Ed Hannon passes to as he takes us through Sundial House, an accommodation facility run by Depaul Ireland for alcohol dependents in Dublin’s city centre.

Home to 30 clients, the facility offers food and board to men and women with alcohol problems and other complex needs.

The residents are allowed to imbibe on the premises but the majority have entered into alcohol management agreements to help curb health and social issues.

“We sit down and work out an alcohol management plan – what suits them best, everything down to the type of alcohol,” Hannon explains. “Even something as simple as changing from 6% cider to Guinness has an untold effect. You wouldn’t believe the difference between six and four percent.

Personalities also make a big difference – one man we had here was fine if he drank vodka but would flare up if he drank whiskey.

The management plans also include a cash element. The majority of the clients hand over their social welfare payments to staff to ensure they budget it equally over the seven days.

That system has only been in place in Sundial for 18 months but has already had a positive effect.

“Everyone here is a chronic alcohol user so they were going into withdrawal after binge drinking heavily on a Wednesday, Thursday and Friday,” recalls Hannon. “They would go through the DTs, that would bring all its related problems and it’s really dangerous.”

With the new process, the money is split so a smaller amount of alcohol can be purchased every day. This not only helps eradicated DTs but it also means the men and women become less intoxicated on a daily basis.

“Since then, we have seen fewer hospitalisations, less aggression and less violence. And the residents really buy into it.”

Most of the residents at Sundial require regular medical treatment, from both an in-house nurse and through external hospital appointments.

They also need supervision on trips outside the hostel.

“The majority need to be accompanied if they are going out,” explains Hannon, noting that the service is the highest-support need shelter in the city.

“When people come in here, they already have ongoing, medical issues. You can really see their vulnerability on the streets, even if it’s not obvious in here.”

Visits to places around Dublin, as well as in-house activities, are an important part of socialisation at Sundial.

“The Breakfast Club, for example, gets residents talking to each other when they are not yet intoxicated,” says Hannon. “They are interacting with each other and starting their day in a positive manner. They are also eating food and nutrition is a huge part of Sundial House.”

The staff are also well-trained and familiar with the residents so they are aware of trigger days, such as the anniversaries of children’s or parent’s deaths.

Do wet shelters work?

Hannon says there was a shift towards wet shelters in recent years because the level of problems with accommodation facilities where alcohol is prohibited.

“You used to see people come up in the evening, knowing they would be there until morning, they would skull the bottle of vodka and arrive in.”

Depaul was the first organisation to deliver a wet hostel but other bodies soon followed suit.

“It is a positive thing,” he argues. “It stops people drinking on the streets, it stops anti-social behaviour outside. Also, you can see what people are drinking and monitor them. You can record and work out what they have drank.”

However, with a “changing homeless scene”, there may be a need for another shift.

“There are no poly-drug users in Sundial. That is rare now. Many drinks also take benzos and other tablets now,” he adds. “In 10 years time, somewhere like this may be redundant.”

But for the moment, Sundial is absolutely necessary.

“If this wasn’t here, you’re talking at least another 10 to 15 people in hospital per night,” according to Hannon.

Jackie’s Story

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JACKIE HAS LIVED in Sundial House for four years. Before landing her ‘bed for life’, she was homeless for 10 years, moving between the streets, tents and hotels.

“Bad scene,” she begins. “Very bad. I got beaten up. There were rapists.”

She quickly tells that Depaul’s service has been “the best thing that ever happened” to her.

“I was going out with a fella at the time and he didn’t want to come. So I said, ‘Well, you do whatever you want. I’m going to a better place’.”

Remarkably, Jackie has decided to stop drinking and has been dry for the past seven months.

“I never want to go back on it again. I saw my brother and sister there a few weeks ago after four years. Because I was drinking, they didn’t want to know me. They still don’t want to know me,” she adds, with a tinge of sadness.

Jackie acknowledges that it is unusual to give up alcohol while living in a wet hostel.

“I started fighting it. I just go into my room turn on the TV or music. I don’t bother. I say, ‘You just do what you want, I’ll go enjoy myself in my room’. I make my own tea with my own kettle. I make my lemon and lime or lemonade.”

She also helps out with the Breakfast Club and baking classes.

“It’s amazing she is off alcohol,” says Hannon. “She’s helping the volunteers which is giving her focus. Another volunteer brings her out for coffee and to the movies. We’re trying to fill her time with activities.

“It can be very hectic here on Wednesday and Thursday nights. She’s had a hard life. A lot of stuff has happened to her. And she’s able to stay sober while everyone else is intoxicated around her.”

Top Pic: Andrew Bennett via Flickr/Creative Commons

Catch up with the rest of our Homeless Ireland series here>

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