Four months inside ‘worst’ motel
RUBBISH piles up inside rooms at a motel in Melbourne's north and visitors rarely open their doors. When they do, they reluctantly hand over rent.
On the floor of one room is a used syringe, tucked under the bed. In another, a visitor sleeps for three days straight in a bed covered in his own waste.
The reviews are devastatingly honest.
"This place is junky city … never staying in this flea invested (sic) sh*t box they call a motel," reviewer Kyle Windebank wrote.
"Terrible place. Police there every day. Other residents all druggies. Would not stay again," Richard Williams wrote.
"If you would like to visit the worst hotel on the planet, here you are," Michael Johnson wrote.
This is the StayInn Motel in Coburg, 11km north of the Melbourne CBD. In July last year, it was the site of a shooting when an argument over money spiralled out of control.
On the surface, it is rundown, dirty and dangerous, but that's only one side of the story.
A new documentary from the team at VICE saw filmmakers spend four months at the motel exploring the reasons behind the negative reviews and the characters who call it "home" - in the truest sense of the word.
Though the StayInn still functions as a commercial motel, it also functions as crisis accommodation, offering rooms to those who need it most.
It means there are two types of clients: motel guests looking for a place to sleep while passing through and motel guests who have nowhere else to go. When the two mix, it's often not pretty.
"Mixing two clients together doesn't work sometimes," manager Phil says. "People are narrow-minded. When they come across people who take drugs or prostitutes … for them it's a reality check that they often don't like to see."
Phil is compassionate, but he's also trying to run a business. He offers "cash back" to clients for odd jobs around the place, and often that's the difference between eating or going hungry.
"We're not really making money," he says. "We're under. The ATO is on my case. But I've never seen Melbourne more disgusting in my life. You walk around the city and there's people sleeping under cardboard boxes in a first-world country. It's shocking."
Inside one room, Phil finds discarded drug paraphernalia and an airconditioning unit that's been disassembled. The guests are gone. It's a common scene.
"They've been doing graffiti, smoking dope," he says. "They left basically rubbish and not much else. We get a TV taken at least once a week, easy.
"I don't think it's nice, but at the same time I think it's a product of society. Their fathers are in jail, they're not living with their mother. They're out. They're got nowhere to go.
"I'm not here to judge them, I just think they should give me some respect like I gave them."
Guests at the StayInn are former prisoners trying to get back on their feet. Jake is one of them.
"I'd be on the street if places like this didn't help out," he says.
"To be honest, I beg a fair bit. I hate it, it's really degrading. I'm just coming out of jail so my account was in negative."
Kath is a returning guest. She's addicted to drugs and trying her best to get off them. Inside her room she decorates the wall with messages of thanks to staff for their continued support and patience.
"We all hit rock bottom somehow," she says. "I never thought that I'd end up on the streets or doing drugs. My drug habit was pretty bad when I came here. I was using two or three times a day. Now it's once every four days. It's not going to be overnight that I'm going to get better."
The 47-minute film's director, Andrew Kavanagh, said he "stumbled upon the StayInn by accident on TripAdvisor".
"I wondered how a business could let itself become so apparently lawless and chaotic. When I met Phil, I realised that this was not an ordinary motel."
Over the course of four months, Kavanagh said he learned the ins and outs of the operation, but struggled to get close to anyone.
"The thing that struck me the most about life at the StayInn is how capricious it could be. I'd make a connection with a person and start filming with them only to turn up the next day and find out that they had been arrested or kicked out for one thing or another.
"They'd be gone, and another person would be sitting in the room where I'd been happily chatting to them a day earlier. People were always making plans for a better future, and their plans rarely turned out."
But some residents are hopeful. Mandy, who visits with her partner, says there's something special about the place.
"You get people here from mental health facilities, from prison. Everybody here's a bit broken. Sometimes I think they get a little bit mended before they leave."
To watch the documentary, click here. The Stay Inn will also air on SBS VICELAND later in November.