Homeless crisis needs answer
The sight of people sleeping rough on our streets is one of the saddest and most tragic aspects of life in Northern Ireland. This is particularly evident in Belfast, and every evening in parts of the city centre a number of people are bedding down for the night.
The reasons for this are complex, and they include marital break-ups, lack of employment, family alienation and many other factors which cause people to become outsiders.
This is all the more disturbing because our welfare state is failing to cope with this huge social problem, and this tragedy will continue until we find a successful way of dealing with it.
Though the human dimension is paramount, there is also an economic factor... some people are pointing out bluntly that the evidence of deprivation on our streets is also providing a poor image at some of our best-known tourist attractions.
That is not a heartless point, but rather a reflection on the economic factors which lead to deprivation.
Yesterday this newspaper drew attention to the misery caused by the high rate of repossessions in Northern Ireland, and contrasted this with the less drastic situation in the Irish Republic.
We asked whether our local banks were too quick to move towards repossession, and suggested that they might learn something from the cross-border financial institutions.
This could apply also to the homeless, and a less aggressive and more humane stance by our banks might help to relieve the pressure on those who feel that their only means of existence is to take to the streets.
Perhaps the Executive and local councils could do much by working more closely to alleviate and finally overcome this tragic situation.
Obviously there are no easy answers, and if there were, the problem would have been solved a long time ago.
The reality remains, however, that the sight of people sleeping rough on our streets should weigh on the consciences of all of us.
When and where people cannot cope, we should try even harder to help them to help themselves.
Too many of us continue to walk by on the other side of the street, but surely it is not beyond our ability to overcome this continuing tragedy.