Former staff and volunteers from a key Derry charity set up to help street drinkers have spoken out about how their ‘dream’ roles turned into a nightmare.
A protest was today (Friday) due to take place outside Foyle Haven on John Street at 1pm, amid anger and dissatisfaction over the alleged treatment of those who have worked at the facility.
Depaul Ireland, which runs Foyle Haven, have refuted claims made by the former workers regarding the operation of the facility and have pointed to positive recent assessments from outside bodies.
A number of people who have worked or volunteered in the Haven in the past have spoken to the Journal about their experiences at the facility over the past several years.
Among them was Derry man Dee Butler (33), who was Volunteer of the Year 2014 out of all Depaul projects, after working with Foyle Haven from the end of March 2013 to September 2014.
He said he had become interested in volunteering because he knew of people who have been through alcoholism and had used the Haven facilities.
“At the start it was amazing, it was a great place to be,” Mr Butler said.
“I was doing everything from labouring work, helping service users, office work, floating support visits, I done basically everything the workers done.
“About a week after receiving the award in June 2014 things started to go wrong. All these rules were getting set on me and no-one else.”
He said that while flexibility was utilised to ensure other volunteers were allowed to come in and work round their own paid employment, he was not.
“At the start I was doing more hours than the staff. I was doing sometimes 60 hours a week because I didn’t have anything on outside. It was my going down and giving something back rather than me sitting in the house and doing nothing.”
He claimed however that after he started getting work his shifts at the Haven were cut drastically, while the workload during them increased.
“It got harder and harder,” Mr Butler alleged. “They started limiting when I could come in, if I had to come in ten minutes late or early, telling me not to come in.
“Doing the work and helping them is amazing but the cr*p you endure is heartbreaking.
“About a year before I left there were 26 volunteers. When I left there were seven. Everybody hated it. They got in there for the right reasons and then it was just the treatment.
“People’s moods were dropping, even the service users were suffering.”
Several of those who spoke to the Journal claimed that even service users were expressing dissatisfaction when they met them outside the facility.
“At the start it was packed, they loved it and it was doing the purpose it was put there for, to get them off the street,” Mr Butler said.
A number of other people spoke of how Mr Butler was also required to undertake the electrical work and painted the whole building, all on a voluntary basis.
Several people alleged that there had been numerous issues including staff allegedly being singled out for disciplining as a means of control, alleged false claims of a staff member suffering from depression being contained in a report, staff being weighed down with paper work, being allegedly made to undertake unreasonable tasks, and also allegedly put under unnecessary stress and in one instance a case of a staff member being wrongly reported as having depression.
One person described conditions as having become “a living hell” at one point, with several claiming to have developed major stress.
“It was at the start a vocation, you loved going to your work,” one person said. “Then it just became an absolute nightmare.”
“All we wanted was to work and work well and do what we do, help people,” another person said. Documents have been seen by the Journal concerning some of the complaints.
Further alleged episodes include a risk assessment report being drafted, stating that a member of staff with a progressive disability would be unable to fulfil certain duties and may prove risk to themselves and to service users, and a support worker committed from another organisation to aid a disabled member of staff allegedly being removed from their duties to do office work at the Haven.
Charity Depaul Ireland have moved to refute allegations made by former workers and employees about the Foyle Haven operation on John Street in Derry, which they took over in 2011.
A spokesperson for the charity said it was “disappointing that this has complaint has been brought forward to the Journal”.
The spokesperson said: “We would refute claims that the service is not performing to the standard of care that it has always been committed to. Recently we have been audited by our funders, the Supporting People team from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, and the project was assessed as being of a ‘b’ standard (project are graded from ‘d’ lowest to ‘a’ highest). In this process staff and service users would have been interviewed, and paperwork reviewed.
“As to Dee Butler’s statement we are disappointed to hear this. Dee did make a complaint internally and was met with by senior management, in conjunction with a local representative that he brought with him to the meeting. We believed that this matter had been resolved and although Dee has decided to no longer volunteer with the project, we would be happy to meet with him again if he would find this helpful.”
Depaul Ireland said that in relation to allegations of widespread anger and dissatisfaction among other volunteers and staff, they can only deal with issues that are brought to our attention.
The spokesperson said: “There have been a number of grievances brought forward which we have been dealing with and liaising closely with Unison regarding these.
“Additionally, we have recently sought external support to provide interventions including team building and this is due to take place in the very near future.
“Annually we undertake a staff survey and act on any areas of concern from this and we have a planned volunteer forum in Derry.”
The spokesperson also said a member of staff who has a disability is being supported by the organisation through long term income protection.
The spokesperson added: “As with all services, there are from time to time challenges in Foyle Haven and processes put in place to manage staff performance, you will appreciate that we are not in a position to discuss individual issues.”
Foyle Haven was set up by local people in Derry as a way to support street drinkers in the city.
Derry community police Sergeant Paul Sheehy and Sister Catherine Boyle brought the Haven to life and welcomed its first service users to the John Street building back in 2001.
Due to an increase in demand for its services, by 2011 it amalgamated with Depaul Ireland to secure its future.
At present it operates a day care service and floating support service for people with serious addiction issues and who are either homelessness or in need of home support.
The project, which has previously won a Glaxo Smith Kline Impact Award in recognition of its outstanding contribution to improving health care among street drinkers in Derry, was set up to provides practical assistance including hot meals, access to showers and laundry facilities and a programme of regular social activities.