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We couldn't save Catherine but don't let her die in vain - sister of woman found in Belfast doorway in moving plea over homeless

By Cate McCurry

Published 22/03/2016

Homeless teenager Maria Brady was cared for by Catherine Kenny
Homeless teenager Maria Brady was cared for by Catherine Kenny
Catherine Kenny who died at the weekend

The sister of a homeless woman found dead in a shop doorway in Belfast has said that she doesn't want her to be "just another dead body" in the street.

Dozens of heartfelt messages and floral tributes have been left at the spot where Catherine Kenny (32) from Co Down died.

Catherine, who is to be laid to rest tomorrow in her home town of Downpatrick, is the fifth homeless person to die on Belfast's streets this year.

Her sister, Lee-Maria Kenny Hughes, said that she doesn't want her death to be in vain.

In an emotional interview, she told how her family had tried on many occasions to help her but that addiction to drugs and alcohol had "gripped her".

She told the BBC Radio Ulster Stephen Nolan Show of her devastation at her sister's death, saying she knew they loved her but "it wasn't enough".

"I'm devastated," Mrs Kenny Hughes said. "Heartbroken. Robbed of an amazing young girl who absolutely would have helped the lowest in society in the country that we live in. Absolutely full of compassion, joy and 'let me help you', that was her motto. The drugs tormented her mind."

Lee-Maria also told how Catherine's battle with addiction began when she was 16 years old.

"Back then it was never hard drugs - it was never anything other than a few wee stupid pills here and there," she said. "Then it took hold with a vengeance. It gripped her and took hold of her and we knew, we heard it in her voice, we heard that plea every day, we talked to her every day."

Lee-Maria's husband Darren said his sister-in-law went to a "dark place".

Catherine lived on the streets for 11 months consecutively and her sister would have visited her on many occasions.

Lee-Maria was keen to stress that they didn't want her to be "just a dead body in the doorway".

Catherine's partner William 'Jimmy' Coulter, from the Ligoniel area of Belfast, died in similar circumstances in February.

Darren added: "As we can see from tributes in the doorway, this girl touched people's lives. As much as she was down on her luck and battling her own issues and demons, still she was very well thought of and touched a lot of people's lives and had a family."

Catherine's family have said that in order to prevent more deaths happening, drugs need to be eradicated from society. "Fix society. Limit how much alcohol people can purchase, increase the price of it," said Lee-Maria.

As the family prepare for Catherine's funeral tomorrow they said they hope speaking out will save a life.

"We don't want Catherine's death to be in vain. She would be the first one to try and save someone's life. If she had managed to find her way back from this, of that I have no doubt she would have tried to save someone else's."

A spokesperson for Shelter NI, a charity which aims to help housing and those with homeless problems, said: "We are concerned that the scale of homelessness in Northern Ireland in general is continuing to increase.

"Street homelessness is one aspect of this and the spate of street deaths recently draws attention to the real dangers faced by vulnerable homeless people. Each recent death has given rise to widespread sympathetic public response calling for action. Shelter calls on the government to take immediate steps to tackle this problem before the May election."

Last night, Social Development Minister Lord Morrow said he intends to bring a draft action plan on homelessness to Thursday's Executive meeting.

"Life is very precious and the death of Catherine Kenny, who is the fifth person to die, is of great concern and one which we as a society cannot accept," the DUP minister said.

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