Dublin soup run faces closure with fears HSE inspection may be the ‘final nail in the coffin’

0 homeless street caf 1.jpg
0 homeless street caf 1.jpg

A group of caring volunteers who have been feeding Dublin’s homeless for five years fear they will be forced to close by the HSE.

The Homeless Street Cafe has been providing some of the most vulnerable people in the city centre with food, drinks and supplies but are concerned they will not be able to comply with strict new measures set out by health chiefs.

The group were recently visited by HSE inspectors during one of their regular Tuesday night soup runs.

Denise Carroll is a nurse and one of the organisers of the group.

Her Facebook page became viral when she posted pictures of a young boy eating on a piece of cardboard and a man’s injured feet.

Denise spoke to Dublin Live about the difficulties the group is currently facing and her own personal crossroads.

She explained that she met two health inspectors while setting up as normal.

“We are doing it for five years.

“It is our normal process.

“We turned up on Tuesday at Grafton St and there were two inspectors.

“We didn’t know what was happening.”

Denise was asked questions related to the volunteers’ food preparation process which she answered honestly.

“They asked us a lot of questions about where our food was produced and by who, about out handwashing facilities in town, food storage and all of those kind of things.

“I just answered them as honestly as I could.”

All of the group’s food is donated or made in some of their volunteers’ own home kitchens.

She said: “People all lovingly prepare it in their own homes.

“They make cakes.

“They make fabulous sandwiches. They’re not chefs.”

Denise was immediately taken aback by the health inspection and asked if there was a complaint. She was told that there was not.

She went home and researched, quickly realising that their group was not the only soup run that had been inspected.

The Dublin mother felt reassured until a letter detailing strict compliance issues that Denise’s group will not be able to meet.

She said: “Then I got the letter and I was absolutely devastated to be honest, heartbroken.

“All I did was cry. I couldn’t read the whole thing.”

Her first instinct was that the letter was the end of the group’s efforts, the final nail in the coffin for the Homeless Street Cafe.

“You know what my life would probably be easier,” she said.

“I have a family. I work as a nurse. We have a busy life.”

She later reflected on her role within the community and the serious impact their services have on the lives of many Dubliners that are sleeping rough.



The group of volunteers

“Soup runs, whether we like it or not have become a bit of a voice for the homeless.”

Densie explained that she could not take the letter lying down, as there was no alternative in place for those that rely on their services.

She put up a Facebook post detailing their situation and appealing for help and advice from anyone who had been a similar situation.

It was then that she received a message that reminded her why they started the Homeless Street Café in the first place.

“A man that we had dealt with who had been homeless a couple of years previously sent a message to the page.

“He said: ‘Please don’t stop- soup runs saved my life.”

Denise said that for many people the social interactions and sense of community is just as important as the necessities provided during soup runs.



The line for the group’s services

The man now lives in his own place and is working.

His story reminded Denise of the importance of the work the volunteers do.

“I don’t think it is something that should be stopped.”

The group are not registered as a charity and it is something they are not eager to do.

“For me to start this as a charity, it would mean it being a full-time job.

“All we wanted to do was feed hungry people.”

To meet regulations to stay open the volunteers would have to register any kitchen used for sandwiches and hot food with the HSE.

Denise does not feel she would be able to ask her volunteers to do this.

A lot of the people who make the sandwiches and cakes are pensioners who are not internet savvy.

“We rely on people’s kindness so I think that’s just off the cards for a table on the side of the road.”

All those preparing food would have to be trained to handle food and temperatures would need to be taken regularly to ensure the meals are up to scratch.

The group are willing to take any help and advice available but cannot afford to meet some of the regulations set down by the HSE.

“We are not adverse to help or recommendations that they can give us,” said Denise.

“What they’re asking for would be the closure of the soup runs for sure.”

The soup run is being re-inspected next week and hopes to be able to set up on Grafton St for many weeks to come.

Denise said: “I don’t want to be above the law.

“If we are going to put rules and regulations on people before they’re allowed to help someone or feed a hungry person then I don’t know what kind of country we are becoming.

“We’ve no government stepping in to do this on this level.”

A HSE spokeswoman told Dublin Live that all food businesses must comply with food law regardless of whether they are providing meals for charity or not.

She added: “Regulation (EC) No. 852 of 2004 sets out the hygiene rules for all food businesses, such as structure, equipment, food waste, water supply, personal hygiene, heat treatment and training requirements, in addition to provisions applicable to the wrapping and packaging of food.

“Under this Regulation there is also a requirement to develop a food safety management system based on HACCP principles which identifies and controls the hazards that are relevant to the food business in question.

“Some businesses develop their own in-house food safety management system while others use recognised guides such as the FSAI Safe Catering Pack as a practical and easy to use food safety management system.

“These regulations apply minimum food safety standards to all food businesses, including the voluntary sector.”

The spokeswoman added that as people accessing homeless services are among the most vulnerable in the community, they may be immunocompromised so “the risk of serious illness as a result of food borne infection needs to be kept in mind”.