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Fourth homeless man dies on Belfast streets: Volunteer who prayed over his body says 'people step over the top of homeless'

By Jonathan Bell and Lesley Houston

Published 25/02/2016

Emergency services attend the scene on High Street in Belfast after a homeless man was found dead last night
Emergency services attend the scene on High Street in Belfast after a homeless man was found dead last night

Belfast council has been urged to act after a fourth homeless man died on the streets yesterday.

As temperatures plummeted towards zero, the body of a man in his 40s was found on High Street in the city centre.

It is thought he had been sleeping rough in a doorway of a shop in the area, which was cordoned off after the discovery.

A post-mortem will be carried out, but the death is not being treated as suspicious.

Tributes to the man, named online as Roy, poured in on social media after the tragedy.

A homeless volunteer worker, Tom, knew him personally and said he prayed over his body before saying goodbye.

He told the Nolan Show it was heartbreaking: "Some of these people are victims of circumstance. They haven't decided to become homeless. It's such a complex issue and we live in a society where the system fails people on a regular basis."

He said the stigma surrounding the homeless stops people from helping those they see on the streets, adding: "People step over the top of them."

The death comes just weeks after the discovery of a 44-year-old man's body at a flat in Donegall Street on February 17.

Ten days earlier, a homeless man known as Jimmy, who was in his early 30s and from Belfast, was found dead in Donegall Place.

And in December, the body of a homeless Russian man was found at Titanic train halt.

Dannielle Lavery, of homeless charity Amethyst Outreach, said volunteers would take the latest news "really bad".

"We just can't believe there has been another death - we are in total shock," she said.

"We were out just the other night. You normally have a laugh and a joke with service users, but that night was different.

"Given the cold, there were so many service users and tensions were high and we struggled to keep them warm. They really were all struggling in the cold and they could change from being calm to flipping out."

Donna Connor, of Hope Outreach for the Homeless, said she was devastated by the death.

"We're shocked to learn of this man's passing and send our sympathy to his family," she said. "He was a pleasant, well-mannered and educated man."

Charities for the homeless urged the authorities to take action before more deaths. Danny McQuillan of Extern said: "I think we need to stop looking at this as a problem of a homeless person and see them as people."

Amethyst is behind a petition signed by 18,000 people calling for Belfast's empty buildings to be opened up for those on the streets. Councillor Jim Rodgers last night conceded that although those demands were understandable, health and safety fears meant there were huge barriers to having them realised.

Ulster Unionist councillor Sonia Copeland added: "What happens if we open a building and it goes up in a puff of smoke and there are six deaths? There would be an outcry.

"If it was easy, it would have been done. The problem is, this won't happen quickly, not as quickly as I would like to see it."

SDLP councillor Patrick Convery urged the Housing Executive to act on the problem. He said people deserved the "dignity of shelter" and disputed the Executive's estimates that there were only six long-term homeless people on the streets nightly.

Stormont Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness expressed concern on social media and said he would be raising the issue with other government ministers.

He said on Twitter: "Very sad to hear that a man died on the street in Belfast last night. Important that we discuss this at the Executive in Fermanagh. #concerned."

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