Belfast Telegraph

Belfast council removes 'pool table' shelter left for homeless on safety grounds

By Nevin Farrell

A mystery group that catapulted the issue of homelessness into the spotlight by placing an unusual sleeping capsule on a Belfast street claims it has been inundated with requests for similar pods elsewhere.

The pod was placed in a highly visible area of the city centre at Victoria Street, just across the road from a hotel.

It has now been removed by Belfast City Council for health and safety reasons.

The pod looked like a pool table with the middle section taken out.

Those behind it claimed it was for people to sleep and take shelter in. It was fitted with a phone charger powered by solar energy and a radio.

A sign on the side read 'Social experiment. Do Not Remove! You may need it someday? Give Peace a chance. Thank you. commonlawni@gmail.com'

It is unclear if the bench was some sort of student-style venture to gauge reaction or a genuine attempt at helping the homeless.

Those behind the initiative wish to remain anonymous and only responded to the Belfast Telegraph through the email on the pod, which they said was provided to them by the Common Law NI group. They stated they were not associated with any organisation or church. Those who placed the box said they had received requests to provide units in other parts of the UK and Ireland.

The capsule was installed at Victoria Street before Christmas, but after stories appeared in the media at the weekend Belfast City Council moved in.

A spokeswoman said: "Belfast City Council regularly works with other organisations in relation to tackling social problems across the city but our priority in this instance is to ensure the health and safety of people using this pod. It has been removed until we can consult with its owners.

"The pod was placed close to a busy thoroughfare and, while well constructed, is made of wood which raised concerns about combustible material and the potential for being set alight.

"It was not fixed in position and had a number of finger traps which could cause injury to users, inquisitive passersby or people moving the unit.

"We are keen to talk to the owners of this pod and ask them to contact us so we can discuss the issue with them."

The group hit back at the claims, saying: "The pod was positioned by a main city road, where the traffic is slow moving.

"The weight of the unit requires at least four men to lift it so the risk of it falling over or blowing away is extremely low.

"The wood is a heavy duty exterior plywood painted and varnished with water-based paints reducing the fire hazard, a fire accelerator would need to be present for a fire risk."

A Facebook site apparently linked to the capsule carried the tagline 'Help the Homeless'.

Yesterday, it had a picture of the removed capsule - the top of which doubles up as a public bench - alongside two vandalised seats.

The post carried the message: "Is this bench really a bigger health & safety hazard compared to what's there?"

Quotes

"This was a kind and humane gesture. It has been a valuable exercise because it has turned the spotlight on homelessness and the lack of provision for those sleeping rough in Belfast, as there is currently inadequate support or refuge. People end up on the street for a range of reasons such as addiction and family breakdown."

- Green Party's Ross Brown

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