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Residents up in arms with local wet house

Orchid House

Residents up in arms with local wet house 

By Eoghan Brunkard & Gary Kelly 

AT the inaugural meeting of what was to become St James’ Street’s residential committee, the rather controversial subject of Sundial House, the “Wet House” on the corner of James Street and Bow Lane became a hot topic.  Local residents complained about the number of people suffering the effects of alcoholism walking James’ Street and its traffic island.  An employee of Sundial House made an impassioned defense of the premises stating “Let Them Die with Dignity”.  Since then our online paper has been contacted numerous times to cover the topic and so, we will.


Some of our readers may not be familiar with the term “wet house”, don’t bother reaching for the Oxford English Dictionary because you won’t find it in there. To sum it up, in its simplest form a wet house is accommodation put in place for homeless people who are unable or unwilling to stop drinking alcohol.  Sundial House established by DePaul Ireland in 2006 was the successor of a similar project in Aungier Street, which was the first of its kind on this island, founded in 2002 on the back of a research report on homelessness, named “Under Dublin’s Neon Lights”.   The principle of the organization is harm reduction, that people with chronic alcohol problems over the age of 18 (though the average age is the mid 40s) have warm safe accommodation and do not have to sleep rough on the streets.


This philosophy is laudable in many respects, as there are quite simply many people out there who are unwilling or unable to give up alcohol who are entitled to the same rights to a roof over their head as the rest of us and indeed, to, as the representative at the meeting stated, a dignified existence.   However there is another side to this coin, the contention that was present at that residential committee meeting was that the people using this facility were making James’ Street a rougher area to live. Residents contended that clients of the service were not living a “dignified existence” but making the area harder to live in, through acts of public defecation, loitering with alcohol at the Fountain obelisk and intimidatory encounters with tourists and locals alike.


IN order to try and capture every aspect to this complex and controversial story, our reporter Gary Kelly proceeded to contact Sundial House’s head office in Belfast and its branch office in Dublin.  Unfortunately, they have not made themselves available for comment.  Our website manager Eoghan will endeavor to play devil’s advocate on their behalf in their absence to provide balance to this article.  Gary then went out on the street to find out what local businesses and residents felt about the facility.


One local business woman felt that clients of Sundial House could be quite aggressive and had entered her business premises many times drunk and  frightening her customers.  “They can be very intimidating, I had extra locks put on the door, they can be very abusive, I’m scared”.  A big issue among café owners in the area was that the location of the service was pushing tourist footfall out of the area, as two such café owners believed “[that] they are driving people out of the area” and “it’s a disgrace, they’re driving people away”.  This sentiment was also echoed by a number of local publicans.  In addition, people working in the local church spoke about the problem of defecating on the church grounds.  “It has happened a number of times that people from that place come in here and crap on the grounds, on several occasions they drink here too, I’m only one person, I don’t want to have to chase them out of here on my own”.


While residents lamented the inappropriateness of having such a facility in a highly populated area with a young population, one man said “it’s not right, not with kids in the area”.  Others commented on behavior that was exhibited by some of the clients on the street,   “no respect for anything or anybody, they drink, go to the toilet and have sex on the street”.  Some residents understood the need for such services but questioned the idea of placing them in an already disadvantaged area, “places like that are needed but not in a place like this”.  Continuing on a that theme, the point of there being such a concentration of harm reduction services in the James’ Street/Thomas Street area irked a number of residents.  “The trouble is there are 5 of them so close together”, “how did they get planning for all of them in the same area”, “I don’t know how they don’t all get knocked down by the Luas”.

Orchid House 2

The argument for the service is that ultimately, any area will take issue with harm reduction services being established in it, though it does seem that the area does contain more than its fair share.  It is also true to say that people in this situation need housing. While people congregating and loitering on the streets drinking maybe a nuisance, the alternative may see these people do the same but also sleeping rough and losing their lives to an increasingly cold winter climate.  It would be inappropriate to put people with profound alcohol problems into regular social housing when additional care is required, such as personal, welfare and healthcare advice, which is needed.


In the end, however, the issue has not dissipated since the premises establishment in the area 6 years ago.  Social issues that accompany such facilities are highly visible on the street, and the recent residential committee meetings all suggest this is a topic that locals in the area still feel acutely.  To be honest, perhaps it would be best for Sundial House to meet these challenges head on.  It should be accepted that these services are required and it is far too easy for us all to say move the problem on, though we have been somewhat saturated with these services.  That said, perhaps the organisation should try to take more responsibility for the action of its clients.  There has to be a compromise whereby the organisation ensures to residents and business owners in the area that their clients use their facilities and not engage in public defecation and other adverse affects linked with having such a concentration of people with severe alcohol problems in one location.


Let us know how you feel in the comment section, we are eager to hear all opinions.


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One Response

  1. Gloria Rooney says:

    I think it’s disgraceful that so many hostels have been allowed to open up in one area that is already disadvantaged and is on a tourist trail. One hostel is fine but five is irresponsible. Also, St James Hospital already attracts people with addiction problems to the area. The sex shop on James street also adds to the anti social behaviour. I would hate to bring children up in this area

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