'Street count' will help develop plan of action
The image of the homeless person, sleeping bag-huddled, begging for change, provokes strong reactions. It is, after all, the stereotype we fear the most.
In reality rough sleepers are an extremely small percentage of the homeless population, with around 19,000 households presenting as homeless to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) and many others hidden from the statistics; sofa surfing, sharing with friends and family. In comparison, it is estimated that seven individuals sleep rough in Belfast every night. Of those we see, many more will be street drinkers, have accommodation in hostels (or their own homes) but do not wish to engage with services, or beg, sometimes to provide money for an addiction.
As the 'problem' is becoming more visible, the NIHE, in partnership with the Welcome Organisation and De Paul Ireland, are conducting a three-month street count. This will not only assess the actual numbers of those on the street over this period but also if they have accommodation and why they are not accessing the many services available in the city. The intention is to develop an action plan based on the findings and if necessary provide additional services or remodel those already existing. Belfast has dedicated street outreach and day centre services which feed, clothe and provide health care to rough sleepers and street drinkers. We have 'crash' facilities for those who find themselves roofless in an emergency, a wet hostel where residents can drink on site with supervision, and a service which provides intensive support to those with addictions in their own homes. If you have concerns about someone who seems to be homeless in Belfast, telephone the Welcome Organisation for street outreach on 028 9023 4387.
Ricky Rowledge is director of the Council for Homelessness Northern Ireland