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Homeless village in Belfast torn apart in raid just a week before Christmas

Published 22/12/2015

Claremont Street waste ground
Claremont Street waste ground
Tented village where homeless men were living
Claremont Street
Donna Connor from Hope from Outreach for Homeless with donations to the homeless of Belfast.

THIS is the tented village in Belfast’s most exclusive postcode where a group of men lived until a mystery raid earlier this month.

The occupants — known locally as the ‘tent guys’ — have been left homeless just before Christmas after heartless people threw away their tents.

While it is unclear who removed the five tents, whoever did so waited until the men had left to find food late one night.

When the ‘tent guys’ returned they discovered that their personal belongings had also been removed.

Jim Connor from homeless help group, Hope Outreach, told Sunday Life: “They have been told that it was the council that took their stuff away as a matter of environmental health.

“Whoever did it obviously doesn’t know how little bother these guys cause. It’s just seems so insensitive, especially so close to Christmas.”

DEAD

Located behind a row of houses on Claremont Street off the Lisburn Road in the heart of Belfast’s Golden Mile, the tents were mainly occupied by people from Northern Ireland.

A Russian national who had lived there, Albertos, took his own life earlier this month. He ended up sleeping rough after failing to find work since moving from Moscow to Belfast six months ago. He was found dead at Titanic train halt.

Jim said: “The tent guys are devastated with what has happened.

“I was there recently and one of the guys who lived in one of the houses beside them had brought the guys down a KFC.

“Other nights, local residents have been out giving them cups of tea and biscuits.

“There’s a very nice restaurant, Bourbon, beside where they were living and the man that runs it is kind to them too.

“I would understand if these guys had been causing trouble, but they keep themselves to themselves and liked that their wee tented area was quiet and safe.”

In a statement to Sunday Life, Belfast City Council said: “Belfast City Council is at present working with a number of organisations across the city to support and help the homeless. We are not aware of this incident or of any of our staff being involved but will investigate further.”

Our reporter spent a night on the streets to find out what life is like for Northern Ireland’s homeless over the festive period.

In just one hour in the city centre with Hope Outreach for the Homeless, a Belfast-based organisation set-up earlier this year, we had already given hot food, drinks, clothes and sleeping bags to around 20 people living on our streets.

While volunteers give up their free time to help those in need — every night from 11pm — the majority of passers-by did little but stare or make nasty remarks.

BRAVE

Charlie Maughan from the New Lodge area of Belfast, who calls a doorway on Glengall Street home, told Sunday Life: “People treat you alright — they come and go and some of them speak to you and some of them don’t.

“To be honest, they don’t class you as anything because most of them ignore you. You’re just there.”

The brave 49-year-old opened up about the circumstances which led to him sleeping on our streets. He said: “I was sent to Nazareth Lodge Children’s Home in 1972 and Fr Brendan Smyth came on the scene and started sexually abusing us. We were all just kids who hadn’t done anything wrong.”

Before dying of a heart attack in prison in 1997, the paedophile priest admitted to potentially abusing more than 200 children.

“As I’ve got older and come to terms with what happened, I’m very wary around strangers, particularly men. If a man comes over to talk to me, I always want to know exactly who he is and what he’s doing,” said Charlie, who was living in London before returning to Belfast to sleep on the streets almost a year ago.

“When you are on the street, there are a lot of people who take to drink or drugs to help them. For me, I enjoy a drink because it helps me get over my depression, or at least numb it.

“When you’re here, you have a lot of time to think and I think about what Fr Brendan Smyth did to me every day.

“My nerves are really bad and I have trapped nerves in my back which can be very painful. My hands shake a lot too.

“Some days can be depressing but other days you just get on with it. You learn to take each second at a time.

“I keep myself to myself and it has worked for me because I meet nice people and stay away from drug-takers. I say hello to women and children out of respect and many of them speak to me too.”

He added: “You can’t paint everyone with the same paintbrush. If there’s the colour black then there has to be yellow, green or red. There are some nasty people, but not everyone is bad.”

Charlie has been invited for Christmas dinner by a chef from the Royal Victoria Hospital and The Devenish Complex is also hosting a free festive feast for the homeless this Tuesday.

Donna Connor from Hope Outreach said: “You get people kicking and spitting on the homeless while they lie on the ground, shouting abuse and even urinating on them sometimes.

“It’s easy just to walk past people on the street and ignore them, but for most of them, stopping for a chat or bringing them out a tea or coffee is enough to make their day.

“They are so grateful for everything people do for them and they never take anything that they don’t need.

“They don’t ask for much and they certainly don’t take much — they would just like to be treated like human beings.”

 

HOPE

Since Hope Outreach for the Homeless launched in May, they have been overwhelmed by the donations they have received from kind-hearted strangers.

Donna Connor, whose Belfast home is used as a holding point for supplies, said: “I think a lot of people don’t realise that this is a very real issue on the streets of Belfast. It makes me very emotional — there isn’t a night that I don’t come home and cry.

“If anyone can help us give these men and women a better life, we would be so grateful.”

n To donate, visit Hope Outreach for the Homeless on Facebook or call 07521483372.

Online Editors

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