Charity to target most vulnerable in bid to prevent winter deaths on Belfast's streets
More than 20,000 people in Northern Ireland are still homeless, and the problem is at crisis level in the Republic, a leading charity has said.
In its annual report, Depaul Ireland said that since 2013 three times as many families across Ireland are seeking its help, with twice as many individuals also reaching out.
Depaul CEO Kerry Anthony told the Belfast Telegraph that while Northern Ireland's homeless figures had remained steady, the charity was still concerned about a repeat of winter deaths on Belfast's streets.
This year six homeless people have died in the city, prompting calls for more investment in services to prevent similar tragedies in the future.
"In Northern Ireland it's fair to say that homeless figures are relatively static, but there's been a small increase," said Ms Anthony.
Depaul, along with the Housing Executive and the Welcome Organisation, undertook a street audit last summer of rough sleepers in Belfast.
"There were relatively low numbers of people rough sleeping," said Ms Anthony.
"But even one person rough sleeping is unacceptable in this day and age.
"This winter, with our Housing First programme, we're going to target six to eight of the most vulnerable people on the street and try to bring them directly into housing and bring wrap-around support to them."
She continued: "I believe it is really important to try this after the deaths we saw earlier in the year.
"When something like that happens in a city such as Belfast it's incumbent on us to do everything we can to make sure the vulnerable are getting the support they need."
The Housing First programme - which has already been trialled by Depaul across Ireland - aims to put vulnerable homeless people directly into permanent accommodation, bringing support services directly to them.
In 2015, Depaul said 94 people with complex needs were resettled from homeless accommodation into their own homes.
"It turns how we've thought about homelessness on its head," said Ms Anthony.
"We believe you should put people in a house and bring the support to them, that's a much better and cheaper way to help people.
"Hostel accommodation is traditionally quite expensive, whereas putting someone in a house with wrap-around support is a much better outcome for the individual and more widely society."
Depaul says the "crisis" in homelessness in the Republic is down to increased rents in the private sector and many families finding themselves in negative equity.
Ms Anthony says she fears welfare reform in Northern Ireland could lead to the same problems.
"If you apply what we've learnt in the Republic to Northern Ireland with welfare reform looming, as a sector we have concerns of increasing levels of homeless figures for individuals and families," she said.
"We appeal to the Executive to have safety nets in place.
"I know a single woman in Belfast with four young children.
"She received a letter about welfare changes and she will be £100 a month less well off from 2020. That shows you the great risk."