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Homeless action call as fourth man dies in Belfast

By Angela Rainey

Published 26/02/2016

Flowers laid at the spot in High Street where a homeless man died
Flowers laid at the spot in High Street where a homeless man died

An emergency meeting was called by the Lord Mayor of Belfast City Council to address homelessness after a fourth man was found dead in the city.

Representatives from charities, PSNI and volunteer outreach workers met with Lord Mayor Arder Carson to try and resolve issues of homelessness after the man, in his 40s and known only as "Roy", was discovered on Wednesday.

He was found dead in a doorway and was the fourth homeless person to die over the past four weeks.

The man's death is being connected to the use of a legal high, an addiction that outreach workers say is rife among homeless people. Charity workers say they had been speaking to the man only 30 minutes before his body was found.

All the groups at the meeting agreed more needed to be done and a co-ordinated approach was necessary and will look at how this could be achieved

Since the news of Roy's death, there's been a public outcry online to open buildings in the city such as disused offices and churches as places of refuge.

Ricky Rowledge, director of the Council for the Homeless NI, said the deaths are not necessarily linked to a lack of accommodation, as three had places to stay but chose not to. "All sides are unanimous in saying more needs to be done in regards to mental ill health and addiction," Ms Rowledge said.

"There are three key issues that need to be addressed. Homeless people here are not dying from hunger or the cold. Many have mental health issues like addictions to drugs and alcohol."

As some homeless people are shunning refuge at hostels, where alcohol and drugs are not allowed, they're taking their chances on the street.

"We are very concerned by the number of deaths caused by legal highs," Ms Rowledge said. "Homeless people have been known to use them with alcohol and other drugs and it's very difficult to manage the resulting behaviour."

Ian Shanks is part of voluntary organisation Team Homeless Outreach (TEAM HOT), whose volunteers walk the streets each Sunday evening from 7pm to provide comfort, food and clothing to rough sleepers.

He agrees that more needs to be done and says that the voluntary and statutory services need to synchronise more to form a rota system where teams are covering the streets seven days a week. "The public seems to think that everyone on the street is an alcoholic but statistics that's not true. Many are there because of relationship breakdowns," he said. "We need to remember that the homeless people on the street are the people you grew up with, the person you went to school with. They just want to be listened to like anyone else."

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