Belfast Telegraph

Councillor's fury at 'irrational' housing offers to homeless

By Brett Campbell

A Belfast councillor yesterday claimed that the Housing Executive offered a homeless Belfast woman a place in a hostel in Londonderry.

SDLP representative Paul McCusker, who founded the Homeless Aware initiative, slammed the organisation for offering unsuitable emergency accommodation to the needy.

He said: "The Housing Executive may fulfil their statutory obligation by making the offer, but it's not a rational solution.

"They then shun a person who rejects the offer, but of course they turn it down - they have kids at school and they have families who they rely on for support."

Mr McCusker described the situation facing numerous families he has encountered, including that of a young Belfast mother who was offered a hostel 70 miles away. He explained: "They were forcing her to choose between ending up on the streets or being unable to send her children to school.

"They eventually offered sensible shelter in Belfast, but only because I intervened.

"There is a crisis going on and Housing Executive isn't painting the full picture.

"People in crisis still worry about their kids and they fear being isolated from their friends and family."

Mr McCusker, who volunteers in a soup kitchen, also criticised the body for failing to define 'temporary' and warned that tough living conditions were impacting on people's health.

He said: "I know one family who were told they would be in a hostel for a maximum of six months, and they are still there after 12 - they have been forgotten.

"A mother, a father and their three children are distraught - it's having a horrendous impact on their son, who has been referred to mental health services after threatening to kill himself."

The councillor claimed he dealt with families in similar situations on a daily basis and called for the Housing Executive to be honest about the problem.

"Without additional provision, we are going to see more people on the streets," he warned.

A Housing Executive spokesperson said there were more than 2,500 temporary spaces, which they have a statutory obligation to provide, in the Belfast area, but stressed that families were free to reject offers.

They added that suitable accommodation was provided "within hours" to two families referred by Mr McCusker.

The spokesperson also insisted the body always "sensitively place families in accommodation which is appropriate to their needs close to local services, including schools".

Belfast Telegraph

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