Belfast Telegraph

More of us will die, warns homeless woman who found friend's lifeless body in doorway of Belfast shop

Friend of the deceased, Sheila Forgoine
Friend of the deceased, Sheila Forgoine
Tributes at the scene of homeless man’s death
Conaire Quinn
Lee Cochrane
Police and forensics officers at the scene
Emotional shop workers
Paramedics and an ambulance crew
Claire Bailey
Paula Bradshaw
Victoria Leonard

By Victoria Leonard

A homeless woman who found her friend dead in a doorway in Belfast's High Street yesterday morning has warned there will be more tragedies unless action is taken.

Sheila Forgoine (40), who has been sleeping rough in Belfast for three-and-a-half years, said she was "traumatised" after her friend, who she named as Robert James, passed away while sleeping in the doorway of The Bed Linen Warehouse.

She had last seen the Dubliner at around 2am yesterday, but when she went to speak to him a few hours later he was dead.

The PSNI confirmed officers attended the sudden death of a man in High Street.

Detective Inspector Kerry Brennan said: "A post-mortem is due to be carried out to establish the cause of death.

"Police enquiries are at an early stage and there are no further details at this time."

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Tributes at the scene of homeless man’s death

Sandra Moore, chief executive of the Welcome Organisation charity, told BBC's Evening Extra radio programme that the deceased man was 27.

Yesterday homeless people in Belfast created a tribute of tea lights in the shape of a heart in the doorway as a mark of respect.

Ms Forgoine said "homeless people need help before we all end up the way Robert ended up".

"Seven of my mates have died since Christmas in Belfast due to drugs and tablets," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I was with Robert James last night, I tried to waken him but I heard him snoring, so I let him sleep.

"I knew him well, he had been up here from Dublin for a couple of weeks.

"I left about 2am and they were all sleeping. Later in the morning I went over and there he was, dead.

"I said to the others: 'He's dead, quick, get up!' Then the emergency services came."

She added that homeless people in the city "need help".

"I'm traumatised after what happened," she added.

"Not enough is getting done for homeless people. Homeless people need help before we all end up the way Robert ended up.

"We are going to see more deaths on the streets.

"We need help to get off these streets."

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Paramedics and an ambulance crew

Conaire Quinn, who is manager of the nearby Mace Express store, described the situation as "heartbreaking".

"We saw the CPR being done; I think that takes you aback," he added.

"There are up to six people in that doorway every morning.

"It must be a wee bit of a shelter.

"I'm starting to get used to the deaths. It's heartbreaking.

"We have a shop in Castle Street, and it used to be where the homeless people were, but I think because of Primark (the fire) they've been shifted down.

"I think more needs to be done to help the homeless in this area.

"It's devastating to see that in Belfast in 2019."

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Photograph by Justin Kernoghan Police and forensic experts at the scene on High Street Belfast this morning. Photograph by Justin Kernoghan

Lee Cochrane, who is manager of Cash Converters, said the numbers who are sleeping rough had increased in the city centre over the past year.

"I saw the blue flashing lights and a body lying," he said.

"People dying on the streets is becoming the norm in Belfast. It's not as shocking as it used to be, which is shocking in itself.

"I saw a homeless person overdosing across the road one day.

"Drug use is very much a part of city centre homelessness."

Security guard Robert Kelly has worked in the Middleton Building, beside the doorway where the man died, for almost five years.

"I saw the emergency services working on him, it was very distressing," he said.

"The weather had been brutally cold and it was raining too.

"Homelessness is getting more and more rife in this area.

"We would see a lot of drugs and alcohol in the street.

"There is an alleyway between the Middleton Building and the shop, and you would find used needles there or in the doorway where they were sleeping.

"I didn't see any needles this morning.

"It's very sad. I don't know what happened to that man, but he's someone's son."

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Sandra Moore, CEO of homeless charity the Welcome Organisation, near the scene of the death of a rough sleeper in Belfast. (David Young/PA)

Ms Moore said staff from the Welcome Organisation's street outreach team found the man's body.

"Our thoughts are with the man's family and friends, some of whom are members of the homeless community and are very distressed and being supported by Welcome Organisation staff," she said.

"It is tragic that people continue to die on our streets despite the wide range of support being offered.

"The sad reality is that the individuals involved in rough sleeping are among the most vulnerable in society, all too often suffering mental ill health, drug or alcohol addiction, or all three.

"The reality is that if services like those provided by Welcome were not available, the number of street deaths would potentially be much greater."

Green Party leader Clare Bailey described the death as "a human tragedy in the heart of our city centre".

"A death on the street during a cold night is a cruel death," she said.

"The homelessness crisis is very real. We know that homelessness is on the rise across Northern Ireland and welfare reform is likely to exacerbate the problem. I would urge people to support others sleeping on our streets, particularly during this cold spell."

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Emotional shop workers

Sinn Fein MLA Caral Ni Chuilin expressed "serious concern" at the death, and said her thoughts were with the man's family.

"No one should ever have to sleep on the street, particularly in the cold weather," she said.

"But sadly, over recent years, we have seen rising levels of homelessness around the city centre and across the north.

"Homeless charities have been doing great work but it is important that the Housing Executive and statutory bodies continue providing support to people sleeping on the street."

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw said there had been a "failure to tackle" the root causes of homelessness.

"While many organisations and agencies are doing good work on the issue of homelessness, this fundamentally represents a failure to tackle its root causes," she said.

"We need to see more investment in support mechanisms, with resources put into mental health, addiction services, family reunification and other practical support."

Belfast UUP councillor Jim Rodgers also expressed his sympathies.

"We must all play our part in seeking to help vulnerable members of our society and doing everything humanly possible to prevent tragedies like this from occurring," he said.

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