Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland homeless deaths account for quarter of UK figures

The body of Catherine Kenny was found in Belfast city centre
The body of Catherine Kenny was found in Belfast city centre

By Eimear McGovern

Eighty women have died in Northern Ireland in an eighteen month period as a result of being homeless.

The figures include a 101-year-old woman in Belfast and 17 women aged over the age of 80, according to figures from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

It's compared to England and Wales, where the latest data from the Office for National Statistics shows that 88% of the estimated 726 homeless people who died in 2018 were men.

Some 205 homeless people in Northern Ireland died in that 18 month period, accounting for more than 25% of the 800 homeless deaths in the UK, figures gathered by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism during the same period show.

Northern Ireland's population of 1.9 million accounts for 2.8% of the UK's total population.

The Housing Executive considers people living in temporary accommodation to be homeless, as well as rough sleepers.

The figures follow a homeless crisis in Belfast in 2016, when the woman thought to be the first known victim of a synthetic cannabinoid known as MDMB-CHMICA, or Sky High, died on the streets of the city.

Catherine Kenny was the the fifth homeless person to die on Belfast's streets that year.

The body of the 32-year-old mother-of-one from Downpatrick was discovered at a derelict shop on Royal Avenue shortly after 9am on March 19, 2016.

Ms Kenny suffered psychiatric and addiction problems and was hospitalised three times before she died.

The January 2017 inquest heard that 13 people had died from taking the drug in Europe between December 2014 and May 2016, and that Kenny was the first known victim in Northern Ireland.

Ms Kenny's death and the death of four other rough sleepers led to a task force being set up to address the issue up until the Assembly collapsed in January 2017.

Shortly before her death, Ms Kenny served a period of three months in Hydebank Wood College Prison.

David Kenny and Lee-Maria Hughes at the Inquest into the death of their sister Catherine Kenny at Belfast Laganside Court

Her sister Lee-Maria Hughes has told the Guardian that she was pleased when her sister, whom she had supported her entire life, was arrested: "I know that’s selfish of me, but I knew she was safe and was getting dry and getting all her square meals and getting her medical attention."

Mrs Hughes said her sister was popular amongst the homeless community and had a close relationship with William 'Jimmy' Coulter, with whom she often slept rough.

Mr Coulter died on the streets of Belfast two days before Ms Kenny was due to be released. Mrs Hughes said the prison’s failure to tell her sister that Coulter had died was a key factor in her death.

"I rang the prison and I said: 'It’s really important that Catherine is told this news.. If she comes out to this news, this is going to send her over the edge. But, in their professional opinion, they thought that would be the biggest mistake ever."

Mrs Hughes said the prison did not want to risk informing Kenny of her friend’s death, lest it destabilise her.

Hydebank Wood College prison has been approached for a comment.

When Ms Kenny found out the news, she 'went off the Richter scale', her sister said.

"She had been 12 weeks sober and clean and, after receiving the news, she pumped every f***ing narcotic that she could get into her body. Oh my God, it was horrendous."

The following four weeks, Ms Kenny had a number of seizures and was hospitalised. Mrs Hughes said there were no places available in rehab units across Northern Ireland.

She was found dead five weeks after Mr Coulter was found dead in the same doorway.

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