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Belfast's Hostel of Hell

Updated on September 8, 2021
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The author is a QUB Pol Sci Honours graduate and has written extensively on imperialism, national liberation struggles and class issues.

Violence on staff

Brunswick House Support-workers themselves were the victims of serious assaults by violent residents and at least one female support worker was sexually assaulted on shift. Despite the totally unmanageable levels of violence against front-line Support staff, management totally blanked their concerns and hid behind the hostel's high-tolerance mantra. The management and Senior Support-worker were entirely under-qualified for the responsibilities of the job, for instance, despite being paid an on-call allowance, the mincing Senior Support-worker, was never seen in the building after 5 pm. In contrast, if any resident went into arrears on their service-charge, which was collected in cash each week by the hostel, out of the residents own personal money, they could find themselves evicted. Debt to the proprietors of the wet hostel was viewed far more seriously than Grievous Bodily Harm to workers because as far as Brunswick House management were concerned, workers were cheap and the local housing authorities paid staffing costs anyway. The much quota mantra of 'high tolerance' did not extend to profits from residents' service charges, naturally.

A Place to die for

Within the period that Brunswick House Wet Hostel stayed open, scores of residents literally drank themselves to death or overdosed on narcotics. Several were murdered just outside the Hostel, others tragically, took their lives in their miserable hostel rooms. Eventually, the media combined with local hoteliers, business people, ex-staff and even residents, called publicly for the place to be shut down as it was a death trap. Management thought they could weather the storm, as they were literally raking it in from Housing Benefit payments, with each hostel bed bringing in several hundred pounds per resident, per week.

Eventually, the levels of violence against staff, residents, and passers-by reached ferocious, media-attention levels with several residents being dispatched violently, just outside the precincts of the hostel. Cases of attempted murder and grievous bodily harm in inter-resident disputes were getting to be a daily occurrence. Several ex-staff members were suing the hostel owners for physical and emotional trauma. Street robberies and sexual assaults on passersby had increased significantlyin the area surrounding the hostel.

Hostel Murder and The End of The Brunswick House Experiment

Finally, the inevitable happened during one of the daily resident-on-resident violence sessions. Some of the tenants finally managed to brutally murder a fellow hostel dweller, on the premises of Brunswick House. The body of the murder victim was discovered by the dimwitted Senior Support member, a good few hours after the unfortunate fellow had been dispatched. The victim had met his tragic end, in a frenzied stabbing incident with butcher knives taken from the kitchens, wielded by some of the other residents.

The mortuary van was an all too familiar sight to staff, as it trundled up to Brunswick House but this time there was clear evidence of malice aforethought, in the passenger, it had come to collect. There was nothing novel in the building being declared a serious crime scene, but in this case, the police tape sealed the building for the last time. The public outcry surrounding the horrific knife murder was the straw that broke the camels back and hastily after that, the Brunswick House social experiment was packed away for good. Surviving residents were dispersed throughout other local hostels and care homes. The hostel's neighbors, nearby restaurants and the local cops breathed a collective sigh of relief on their wet hostel nightmare's timely conclusion. Unfortunately, the Brunswick House Support-workers, then had unemployment to add to the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which most of them were suffering from. Ultimately, the Support-workers were the real all-round losers in the whole sorry saga of Belfast's wet hostel experiment and many of the staff have never fully recovered from the Brunswick House nightmare.

The local newspaper the Belfast Telegraph had this to say about Brunswick House's eventual closure:

"A top-level report into the notorious Lee Hestia hostel in Belfast concluded that it was failing to meet even "minimum requirements" of service.

It also found that, because of inadequate training, staff was unable to identify incidents of abuse, while some rooms in the seven-story building represented a health and safety risk to occupants". (By Joe Oliver 6 December 2006)

© 2019 Liam A Ryan


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