Belfast Telegraph

Belfast council calls homeless meeting after park benches removal backlash

By Jonathan Bell

Belfast City Council has called a special meeting to address homeless issues after a backlash over its decision to remove benches in a city party used by the homeless.

Wooden slats of the benches in Jubilee Gardens at the junction of High Street and Victoria Street were removed as part of a drive to improve the area and attract people to the location, the council said.

However there was anger among political parties and the public at the decision.

Sinn Fein described the move as "particularly harrowing" given it was taken as Northern Ireland was being hit by an Arctic blast and in the run up to Christmas.

Councillor Jim McVeigh said while his party was working to combat homelessness, the decision to remove the benches was not passed through the council or a committee.

He said the council's elected members should have been consulted.

"The council makes thousands of decisions a day without members' input. But someone should have had the common sense to realise this issue was fraught with political symbolism and significant and they should have sought our views."

"No matter the motivation, it was wrong."

Belfast City Council said the decision was taken to address concerns raised around anti-social behaviour and on-street drinking and was not targeting the homeless community.

It has also approved the use of the area by a new hotel in the area for a one-off event to see if it will attract more people to the town.

A council spokeswoman added: "The benches at Jubilee Gardens were removed as a measure to address concerns raised around anti-social behaviour and on-street drinking and was not to target the homeless community.

"Belfast City Council is committed, along with our city partners, to addressing the very complex issue of homelessness.

"Council wants the city's homeless community to have appropriate accommodation and we work extensively with city partners to ensure support is provided to achieve that.

"Where people do not want to avail of such accommodation, other practical support is given - for example providing winter warmth packs and funding outreach work."

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