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Generous Lisburn folk dug deep for a man claiming to be homeless... except he had a bank account, claimed benefits and was a tenant with a housing association

By Laura Abernethy

Published 24/11/2015

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson

Local people in Lisburn have hit out after they were "conned" by a man who claimed to be homeless in a viral Facebook campaign.

Last week, a page called 'Help John in Lisburn' was shared by people across the city and over 1,000 people liked the page in just a few days.

Through donations and support, organisers and many in the community managed to get the man off the streets and thought they were helping him to start a new life.

But over the weekend, the organisers revealed they had discovered the man they had been helping already had a registered bank account, was receiving Jobseekers Allowance and had an existing tenancy with a housing association.

The group also claimed that he was still begging on the streets and was earning up to £80 per day.

The campaign began after a number of people spotted the man, who they believed to be a 25-year-old who had lived on the streets for five years, sleeping at a petrol station.

Several people posted about the man on a local buy and sell page. They then joined together and set up the Facebook campaign as well as a gofundme page to manage donations.

They raised over £500 to help pay for hotel accommodation and due to the response to the page, local councillors and Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson stepped in to help the man find temporary accommodation.

The group put out calls to organise collections of clothes, toiletries, furniture and everything he needed to build a new life. They said they were "overwhelmed" when they were inundated with offers of help.

However, after several days of working with John, the organisers discovered that his situation was not as they believed.

In a statement posted on the page on Saturday, the group said: "We are frustrated and feel that we have all been taken advantage of, some of us giving up a lot of our time and money, others giving up personal possessions, even their personal Bible."

Marty Chapell, one of the organisers of the group posted: "I'm completely gutted. I gave him so much like the rest of the community. What I take away from this man is we helped him on face value. The whole of Lisburn got behind him. Be proud of what we did. At the end of the day, we weren't to know."

Another member of the group, Neal Connor, posted: "We were fooled by this guy's need, his actions and his motives. He played a big part in our lives this week, especially mine.

"I just fell for this. I will never forget the smirk he had on his face like he knew what he was doing. Finding out these things upset me a lot."

Jeffrey Donaldson said: "We heard that he had a tenancy already with one of the housing associations. We do recognise that there may be changes in circumstances that do cause people to find themselves on the streets so I'm not going to judge this individual but clearly if there was any attempt to deceive the community, that would be a matter of disappointment.

"Regardless of the circumstances, I was greatly heartened and encouraged by the overwhelming response of the community. That is so reassuring for me to know that there is a solid heart in our community that wants to help."

The group are now working with Hope Outreach for the Homeless and will be giving any leftover donations to them.

Belfast Telegraph

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