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Charities in call for action amid report 42 people are sleeping rough in Belfast

By Rebecca Black

Published 05/01/2016

A new study has sought to quantify the homelessness problem in Belfast
A new study has sought to quantify the homelessness problem in Belfast

Six people sleep rough in Belfast every night, the first official audit has indicated.

However, homeless charities have said they believe the true number is much higher.

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) found there are 42 individuals in Belfast who frequently sleep rough, however, the actual average number of rough sleepers each night is just six.

In response to a query from the Belfast Telegraph, an NIHE spokeswoman said the number who regularly sleep rough in Londonderry is in single figures.

Presenting the figures to Belfast City Council's people and communities committee, NIHE officials said all 42 individuals were now being case-managed by its 'housing solutions' team.

They told the committee that as part of their homelessness strategy 2012-17, they aim to eliminate long term homelessness and rough sleeping across Northern Ireland by 2020.

NIHE undertook the homeless audit between May and July this year. As well as the 42 identified, they found there was a wider visible group observed "primarily street drinking and begging".

Kerry Anthony, chief executive of charity De Paul, said homelessness is less visible in Northern Ireland.

"In comparison to Dublin, where 91 people were identified as sleeping rough in December 2015, there are quite low levels of street homelessness in Belfast," she said.

"​However, it must be noted that the majority of people who are homeless in Northern Ireland are hidden behind the closed doors of hostels and other forms of temporary accommodation. Homelessness while less visible is still an issue in Northern Ireland."

She warned: "As we face a period of budget cuts and welfare changes​ in Northern Ireland​​,​ it is critical that we look towards learning from​ ​the Republic of Ireland where there exists a huge crisis in relation to homelessness. We must enact preventative solutions in Northern Ireland. The government must invest in social and affordable housing solutions and provide adequate safety nets for vulnerable people at risk of homelessness to prevent rough sleeping and homelessness."

Ian Shanks from Team Hot (Homeless Outreach Team) said far more than six people sleep rough on the streets of Belfast, pointing out that many are foreign nationals and not registered.

He said the need is so great that there are currently 15 voluntary groups in Belfast helping homeless people. His charity hands out warm clothes, food, toiletries and sleeping bags.

"The core issue is not just the number of rough sleepers, but the families in temporary accommodation, runaways and those just not registered to agencies," he said.

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