Homeless centre arson attack 'a tragedy for most vulnerable'
The director of a centre for homeless people in Belfast destroyed in an overnight arson attack has said it is a tragedy for the those who rely on the facilities.
Police said the fire at The Welcome Organisation’s centre in St Peter’s Square in the west of the city was started deliberately in the rear of the premises following a break-in.
A large part of the building was gutted as a result of the blaze which was discovered in the early hours of yesterday morning.
Director Sandra Moore said staff worked hard through the day to minimise the impact on users of the day support centre.
She said: “The look on their faces as they arrived in the morning was absolutely devastating.
“I have been overwhelmed by the support we have received but we have lost things such as our computers and worse still we have lost things that can’t be replaced.”
Ms Moore said she was alerted to the fire shortly before 4am on Sunday but the full extent of the damage was not obvious until the morning.
“We will never be able to use the building again. We are moving to a new purpose-designed building but that wasn’t supposed to be ready for a month.
“The centre was open from 8am to 10pm and we had between 60 and 70 people through the door every day. It was an attack on the centre but really it was an attack on the most vulnerable people in the city.
“That is what hurts me most about this. We have been in that community for 16 years and to leave it in these circumstances is so sad.
“Add to that the fact it has been so cold and there is snow on the way and it makes it even worse for the people who rely on this centre.
“It is the only place where many of them feel accepted, where they feel like they are a part of a community. I am heartbroken.”
The drop-in centre provided a daytime community venue for men and women who are sleeping rough or are at risk of becoming homeless. SDLP Lower Falls councillor Colin Keenan expressed his shock at the destruction of the centre.
He said: “The Welcome Organisation provides a fantastic service for the homeless and it is was genuinely upsetting when I visited the centre and saw the destruction that had been wrought.”
Police are keen to speak to anyone who assist with their inquiries into the blaze and can be reached at 0845 600 8000 or freephone Crimestoppers in confidence on 0800 555 111.