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Tuesday, 17 October, 2000, 20:58 GMT 21:58 UK
Heartbreak Hotel: transcript
Frontline graphic
This is the full transcript of Frontline Scotland's Heartbreak Hotel programme broadcast on 17 October.

MALE ONE: I've been in every hostel. I've been in Cheapside Street, I've been in Bell Street, I've been in Auldhouse, Great Eastern.

MALE TWO: Hostels in Glasgow I find that they tend to be overrun with drugs. The sort of something brewing beneath the surface type of feeling, I get that. People are just sort of ready to blow up.

MALE ONE: The worst hostel I'll tell you, without doubt, was The Bellgrove.

PRESENTER ROSS MCWILLIAM: Glasgow - on the surface prosperous and fashionable for those who can afford it, but Frontline Scotland can tonight reveal the darker side of the City. We go inside the private hotel run with public money where profit comes before care for the homeless alcoholics with nowhere else to go.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: Homelessness is on the increase. Glasgow, the city with the worst problem in Scotland, is struggling to cope. It has to deal with 6,000 people a year.

The government is so alarmed about the growing problem of homelessness in Scotland that it's pledged millions of pounds to stop people sleeping rough by the year 2003.

It's a laudable aim, but is simply getting people off the streets good enough. Here in Glasgow we've discovered that can mean anything from a council hostel riddled with drugs and drug dealing to a private hostel that offers a roof and a bed, but certainly no hope for the future.

Hooked on heroine and crack John McCrimmon was homeless for 17 years. It almost cost him his wife, his children and his life.

JOHN MCCRIMMON: I remember sleeping rough here on the Clydeside beside the waterside years ago, and it was absolutely freezing, absolutely freezing. I don't know how I never died.

It was very uncomfortable. I never had any blankets or, or a sleeping bag or stuff like that, and this is 10 years on since I was sleeping on the waterside, and there's still people sleeping there tonight. There's still people gonnae be sleeping there in the near future, and it's an absolutely, it's surprising they don't die.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: John has sorted his life out and now works with the homeless, but he despairs at the shelter and support Glasgow has to offer.

JOHN MCCRIMMON: What happens is that people they get passed from hostel to hostel, and there's considered to be quite good hostels, and people start off in quite good hostels, and because we're not looking at their issues when they're in the good hostels, they get moved on to a less good hostel.

The more the, their situation perpetuates and gets worse they go down the scale of hostels and unfortunately they end up in places like The Bellgrove.

The Bellgrove has a system and a culture where there's not a lot of support. The staff aren't trained, so people are left to fend for themselves. They're very vulnerable and very very few, if any, get better or get better accommodation.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: The Bellgrove Hotel has been described as the worst doss house in Scotland, the last large private hotel of its kind in the country.

It's home for men who don't have anywhere else to go. They hand over their Housing Benefit, and get a room and very little else in exchange. The Bellgrove is a last resort. The end of the road. We went undercover to see for ourselves the conditions inside.

We came across the volatile atmosphere in the dining room, and the apparent lack of control by staff. And there was the bleak and barren TV room where men too drunk to move slept on the floor.

And then there were the disturbing claims of a lack of care and support. This man in a wheelchair said he was left stranded on a first floor landing all day, and he claimed there was no help to carry out the most simple task like going to the toilet.

MALE IN WHEELCHAIR: See if I drink too much of that.

MALE: Aye.


MALE: Diarrhoea?


MALE: Must be hard for you going to the toilet is it no?

MALE IN WHEELCHAIR: It ******* is. It's all, it's alright coming oot of the chair.

MALE: Aye.

MALE IN WHEELCHAIR: But see trying to get in and sitting on a toilet.

MALE: There's nae facilities for that in here.

MALE IN WHEELCHAIR: No, no, is there ****.

MALE: What, does somebody have to lift you like?

MALE IN WHEELCHAIR: Aye. The only, the only thing I need is a *******, a bedpan.

MALE: How do you know ask for one?

MALE IN WHEELCHAIR: I've asked them.

MALE: What did they say?

MALE IN WHEELCHAIR: Aye I'll get you one. Still ******* waiting.

MALE: How long are you been, how long have you been waiting on that for?

MALE IN WHEELCHAIR: Oh **** I cannae mind.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: We asked two experts who work with the homeless to look at the conditions Frontline Scotland had uncovered.

Here we have people sitting in a very stark environment watching television, someone's asleep on the floor. Just talk me through you reaction as we arrive in that room.

MARGARET STEVENSON: Absolute sadness really. Very very sad that day in day out, week in, year in, month in, people are living, that's their social recreational area, extremely sad, and how staff and owners can, can overlook that, that, that's incomprehensible to me. I can't get my head round that.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: Do you feel these people have been abandoned?

MARGARET STEVENSON: Abused. I think that's abuse.

LIZ NICHOLSON: I just can't believe that people are still being treated in that way in hostels. It's quite an atmosphere that you get when you look at those, those shots, and I think the thing that strikes you about it is that you're dealing with really people with very chaotic behaviour, very disturbed.

Whether it's because of the alcohol problems they have, or the mental health problems that they have but you know, what's absent from, from all the shots that you've got there are, is, is the complete lack of any care.

The person in the wheelchair is particularly shocking because, you know, he's not, he's not only obviously got some sort of, some alcohol problem, but he's also incapacitated, so you wonder where the dignity, where the quality of life remains for him in, in, living in those conditions, day by day being abandoned.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: Damming criticisms that needed to be answered. Joe McKee is the man who looks after the day-to-day running of The Bellgrove. He's frank about its limitations.

Looking at some individual incidents we've seen a man lying presumably drunk, he's asleep on the floor in the television room, left with no one supervising him, just left to sleep on the floor. Do you think that's abuse?

JOE MCKEE: No, I think in the context of the man lying on the floor, he would be in the TV room, and I could turn around and say - oh great it's an isolated incident, but it's no, I mean it happens.

There, there's people in here drunk all the time, and we've no ground floor rooms in here, so I would rather somebody was sleeping there. He would have been looked at to be sleeping there rather than trying to go up the stairs and come tumbling down the stairs and, and that has happened.

If an incident's going to happen I don't think it's a matter of the number of staff, as in how quickly staff are, are on the scene. In the incident you're talking about I was quite happy that the man was put out the room.

I'll never condone or thingmy anybody hitting anybody or striking anybody, but I'd rather the man was put oot, and in this incident the man was put oot wi' another resident, and staff were on the scene outside quickly.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: And as for the man on the landing Joe McKee said he was fully capable of getting about, but he chose to spend his day sitting in the wheelchair. He added that as a matter of policy they don't provide bedpans.

During our short guided tour the man was nowhere to be seen. He'd been admitted to hospital after staff became concerned about his condition.

JOE MCKEE: I couldnae say for definite but the man might have suffered a slight stroke which enabled us, in a strange sort of way, to get him the help without him having a great say in it. So hopefully we'll be able to put pressure on while he's in to say that we're no accepting him back, and he'll get the care that he needs.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: But really this building isn't suitable for anyone in a wheelchair is it?

JOE MCKEE: No, definitely no.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: But during our undercover filming we found several men in wheelchairs.

As the Manager Joe McKee is the public face of The Bellgrove, but behind the scenes are the two Glasgow businessmen who own the hotel, and make money from it.

KEN GRAY: We, we do get the bad apple from time to time, but there's a lot of camaraderie in here sharing drinks or whatever, but there is a lot of fun. Now that hasn't been captured on the film that has been taken, that outwith that these, these men are relatively happy given the circumstances that they're in.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: Despite the obvious special needs of the men who stay at The Bellgrove, all it has to provide are enough basic facilities to get a hotel licence.

RON BARR: I mean you have a situation where we have got to get a multiple occupancy licence. We have done an awful lot before that particular licence was requested, but to come up to the standards we've spent in the region of £400,000 over the last four years. We're gonna have to spend more money.

We've had to put new fire system in, fire alarm system. We're supposed to put new showers in, new baths in.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: Making those improvements wasn't an act of charity. The Bellgrove's owners had to spend the money to get their multiple occupancy licence, and it's a licence worth having. With 100 residents each paying a hundred pounds a week in Housing Benefit, The Bellgrove is taking in around half a million pounds a year in public money, but that money doesn't get the men help from council's social or care workers.

As a private hotel The Bellgrove has to provide its own.

How many do you have at the moment? In an ideal world how many would you like?

JOE MCKEE: We have two that, that we employ solely ourselves. In an ideal world I would like 20, but seriously I would, I would like five, between five and six.

RON BARR: Now we employ two. We don't have to, but we do. What I'm saying is that, that, well I'm sure Ken would agree, that we are willing, we're willing to fund more care workers.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: If your manager says he needs five care workers and you've said that you would fund that, why doesn't he have five care workers?

KEN GRAY: Because we can't afford it, it's quite simple as that. If we had additional resources then that money would be spent as indeed we got last year.

We had an additional funding from the council, and we have spent that money solely on additional cleaning, and care workers.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: As the directors of Careside Hotels Ltd. Ken Gray and Ronnie Barr get paid a salary. They refused to say how much. The company made a profit of £20,000 last year, and in the past the directors have paid themselves bonuses.

Now you're not, either of you, personally involved in the day to day running of The Bellgrove, so perhaps if you didn't take the salary that you take, that money could be spent on care workers who would be involved day to day.

KEN GRAY: Oh well ... arguable. If we weren't involved then the cost of employing accountants, or whatever it was that was necessary to run the building, may well overtake what it is that we earn.

RON BARR: And we, we've also got to, we actually are, although we're not physically here, we are in communications on a regular well day to day basis.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: You say the men matter, what is best for them is more care workers or two directors?

KEN GRAY: Oh I think you're looking at a combination of both. You, you can't have one without t'other. The directors are there to direct.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: The Talbot Association is a charity. It runs Bob McTaggart House, which deals with the same kind of people as The Bellgrove, homeless and with chronic alcohol problems.

Here there are 52 residents, 24 full time care workers, and a completely different atmosphere.

EDWARD GORMAN: Well this is the main public area of Bob McTaggart House. Immediately behind me is a small lounge which is for our residents who live on the ground floor, and immediately beyond this area we have a conservatory for people to sit out and enjoy the sun.

Over to this area we have another seating area and many of our residents come downstairs to socialise. We have parties and various other entertainment going on in here.

Our plans for the future would be to create a more homely environment so we would, our hope is to build a nice café bar in this area here so that our residents could sit down and enjoy a show, a sociable drink.

MARGARET STEVENSON: We're not saying we're good. We are doing a job, we're providing a service. This is public money, we're accountable.

We employ staff, we train them, we monitor, we supervise what's happening. We actually care; we have a commitment to this client group, that's why we work in this business. It's not that we're good. We're paid to do the job and we do it as best we can.

DOROTHY: This is the bedroom in here.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: Dorothy's place at Bob McTaggart's House costs £250 a week. Again it's public money, but it provides her with comfort and care, and a chance to regain some self-respect and dignity.

DOROTHY: I've got nothing to compare it to apart from my own home, but I've never been in a hostel before, but I think it's great. I mean we get everything done for us, and I can't think of anything that's missing.

And the bathroom. I'm no good at looking after money, and I was getting in bother with my rent and electricity and all the rest of it, and then I started drinking, and och I just went from bad to worse more or less.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: For Dorothy, an alcoholic, the support the hostel gives her is priceless.

Do you think this hostel has saved your life?

DOROTHY: Oh yes I'd say it has. I mean I, I got to the state that I was frightened of, not frightened of dying, well we all are I suppose, to some extent, but I was dying where I was because I hadn't anybody, and I just thought you often read of people found dead in their houses, you know, and they've been dead for years, or months, or well maybe not years, but weeks or months and nobody there, and I didn't want to end up like that.

JOE MCKEE: We're now into one of the rooms, which is a small room in the building.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: Homeless campaigners say The Bellgrove is shortchanging the people who are charged almost a hundred pounds a week to live in a room like this.

LIZ NICHOLSON: The housing benefit system funds The Bellgrove. Public money is, is going in to fund this and, and what are people getting for their money, you know, they are literally getting a roof over their head, and that, that is it, and I can understand why people sometimes say it's better in the streets than in The Bellgrove. People should be getting a care package as well. They should be getting their, their addiction problems addressed to some support there.

I mean housing benefit is providing that roof over their head at a very high price and, you know, this hostel, you know, let's not forget the fact it's a commercial hostel.

They are making money out of the system as far as very vulnerable people are concerned. What they get for their money is a rip-off.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: The owners of The Bellgrove disagree. Whatever else is on offer they maintain some residents are perfectly happy where they are?

So you're saying that given the, the choice of support of better living accommodation that people would actually choose to live in The Bellgrove.

RON BARR: Yes. I know that for a fact.

KEN GRAY: It's horses for courses. It would depend on the individuals clearly and what facilities they had, and how many care workers they had to look after them.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: I mean do you genuinely believe that or do you want to believe that because you need the people to be coming in here, to bring the money with them?

KEN GRAY: I genuinely believe that.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: A point we put to some of those who live in The Bellgrove.

FIRST MALE: I was married to a girl in Germany. That's when I became homeless. I had a brain haemorrhage. Notice the wee dent there. It isn't that bad. I had a brain haemorrhage.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: And then what?

FIRST MALE: (makes drinking signs with his hands) That took over my life.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: What do you think of it in The Bellgrove.

FIRST MALE: Oh I hate that place.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: And how well do they look after you in The Bellgrove?

SECOND MALE: I think you've, accordingly, I think you've to look after your ain self and that 'cause it's all ******* gangsters that's in it.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: Do you think The Bellgrove's helping you?

SECOND MALE: I think it's, it's no helping me, it's making me worse.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: Others have said that being in The Bellgrove isn't helping them; in fact it's making their problems worse. Do you think that's unfair or is that true?

JOE MCKEE: I think in certain cases that I would, I would have to be honest and say yeah. People come in here maybe because of a family split, they, they've caused problems in the house and they've had to leave because of their drink, and I mean when they come in they, they, they are told that this is not a dry place, it's a wet place. A man that's got an alcohol problem in here'll get a drink, so I, I would say that that's a fair enough comment, that some people end up, you know what I mean, wi', wi' a bigger problem than what they had, but it's like that with alcohol, a lot of people have to find their depths before they, they try and step back up again.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: The homeless in Glasgow aren't just being let down by The Bellgrove. Council run Hostels provide a bed and food, but behind the walls that are meant to offer shelter is a growing danger. Drugs are rife.

Many people either have a habit, or get one as a result of moving in.

FRANCES: My mum and my dad who found out that I was taking heroin, I got kicked out. I ended up in Norman Street Hostel, and then Inglefield Street Hostel and that was so horrible, it was so frightening.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: What was frightening about it?

FRANCES: Everybody was sliding doon walls, and there were people overdosing and, you know, it was just, it was just horrible. I'm still using about twice a week, which I'm going to need to work on, but if I was in a council hostel it wouldn't be twice a week, it would be back to £150 worth a day.


FRANCES: Because its, there's drugs everywhere in the Hostels, and the staff, I mean they, I know myself that, that they're aware of it's happening in the hostels, and they just don't care. They don't care.

I mean I, me personally I've went down to the staff and I've said, in confidentiality, I know such and such is selling drugs in this Hostel. Can you do something 'cause I'm trying to get myself sorted out? We'll do something about it, and nothing's been done. They don't care.

FIRST MALE: Sleeping in the hostels you, you do have a room and a bed, and you may be comfortable, but when I was living in the hostels I found more pressure on myself to take drugs, and use more drugs every day.

SECOND MALE: Before went I went in it was, it wasnae too bad at the beginning, it wasn't too bad at the beginning, but once I was in at least two months I could more or less say I had a drug habit.

FIRST MALE: I didn't realise how tough it was going to be sleeping on the streets. I found out now how tough it is, but I'm managing just to cope, and at least I'm not taking as much drugs as I would be if I was in the hostels.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: If you speak to people who live in your hostels and ask them about drugs, they'll use phrases like - the place is riddled with them, it's awash with them, you can't get away from drugs - do you think that's a fair summing up of the situation in your hostels?

MARGARET VASS: Unfortunately I think it is because if you look at the majority of our customers now they are probably in the age range of 25 to 35, and our studies show that at least 60% of them have a major drug problem, so drugs are rife.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: And as we found those drug deals are going on openly on council premises.

MARGARET VASS: If the staff had seen that happening the individuals would have been removed from that hostel and reported to the police. We don't condone drug dealing or drug using.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: But it goes on.

MARGARET VASS: Of course it goes on. People have a drug problem. What do we do, put them on the streets, and increase rough sleeping. I don't think that's an answer.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: Everyone acknowledges it's time to act, and the council has its larger hostels under review. Closing them is the likely outcome.

MARGARET VASS: It is inappropriate to have hostels the size of our Hostels, 250 beds. It is far too big. It's got to be small scale with support.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: Similar plans have been heard before. This time the council feels with political support, and extra government money, something will finally be done to get to the route of the many problems facing the homeless.

MARGARET VASS: If it was about a roof we would have solved the problem years ago. It is not, and everyone involved in the process now acknowledges that it is not just about a roof, so I think we're making great, great strides and certainly work coming out of the homeless task force is recognising now that homelessness is not just about a roof.

It's about prevention; it's about getting services in place to stop people becoming homeless in the first place.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: But those who've been around the homeless scene for years say they've heard it all before.

JOHN MCCRIMMON: The history is that they have reviews to decide what they're going to do, but they can never find any money to do it. Of the people that are in the hostels at the moment, to move them on, to move them to smaller accommodation, cluster flats, smaller houses, smaller units, will cost a great deal of money.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: But will enough money be found to deal with The Bellgrove? Before this investigation highlighted serious concerns over conditions there, it wasn't part of the hostel review. Is that because The Bellgrove is convenient and cheap?

LIZ NICHOLSON: The Bellgrove is a dumping ground for people who have been really abandoned by the statutory services, health, housing and they're left there totally, totally excluded, excluded from society day after day.

MARGARET VASS: Well that's, that's certainly not how the council views it which is why we are actively looking at trying to provide services for the people who are in Bellgrove.

I would hope that through all the joint work that we're now doing, we're going to be able to provide something that will replace The Bellgrove.

ROSS MCWILLIAM: Do you ever regret getting involved with The Bellgrove Hotel?

KEN GRAY: Not at all, it's, it's an exciting time. The individuals, there's some classic characters within the, in the premises, and as I said to you earlier there's a bon ami about them all, and there's lots of good individuals within the, within The Bellgrove.

RON BARR: As far as I'm concerned I have got no embarrassment or upset about being involved with The Bellgrove Hotel. I'm, I, I, consider I'm reasonably proud of what we've done.

Now not everybody thinks that, but I mean I've, any of my friends I would say, come in and see the place.

KEN GRAY: We, we think we do a very good job.

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16 Oct 00 | Scotland
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