Just two of Belfast's rough sleepers have no place to call home
A street audit into rough sleepers on the streets of Belfast has found that only two people are without permanent homes.
The snapshot, carried out on November 30 by the Housing Executive, located a total of five rough sleepers between 2.30am and 5am.
It is a follow-up to a longer-term audit which takes place every night over three months, aligning with an annual practice that is performed throughout the UK and Europe.
Rough sleeping is often confused with homelessness, and is defined by the Government as "people sleeping, about to bed down; sitting on/in or standing next to their bedding or actually bedded down in the open air".
It defines rough sleepers as those found outdoors on the streets, tents and doorways, and "other places not designed for habitation" such as stairwells, sheds and cars.
Volunteers found five rough sleepers in Belfast but discovered that two of them had homes while another lived in a hostel, and the remaining two refused help to be housed.
The audit also found that the number has decreased from 11 since 2016, but street drinking and begging are still preventing people from seeking help.
Anne Sweeney, Assistant Director of the Housing Executive's Strategic Partnerships, said: "This latest count highlights the difference in perceptions of homelessness and rough sleepers.
"All of the five people we encountered were known to the services. Two of them have their own homes, another had hostel accommodation and the other two declined any housing help.
"In recent years there has been an increasing visibility of people sleeping rough in Belfast city centre streets and beyond.
"We, like many others, have been concerned about this trend.
"While it is important to measure this on a regular basis, our priority is to make sure these individuals are receiving the help and shelter they need," she continued.
"In 2015, we commissioned and undertook the Belfast Street Needs Audit, in partnership with the Welcome Centre, De Paul and Belfast City Centre Management, to understand the reality of street homelessness and rough sleeping in the city.
"That 12-week audit found that there were on average six rough sleepers on the streets of Belfast."
"We established that much of the rough sleeping activity is related to street drinking and begging. This latest survey confirms that."
Currently, the Housing Executive provides £13.7m to fund more than 900 temporary accommodation units across the city.
Ms Sweeney added that work will continue to engage with those people who will not seek help to access housing services.
"Many of the people identified in street activity by the Street Needs Audit team were characterised by chaotic lifestyles and poor health and well-being, and proved difficult to engage with and were resistant to offers of assistance," she said.
"All those who work with the rough sleepers on a daily basis continue to engage with those who choose not to avail of the services on offer and to encourage them to leave the streets and move to a place of safety."