Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland homeless deaths are more than quarter of UK total with 205 people dying in 18-months

Catherine Kenny
Catherine Kenny
Catherine Kenny's sister Lee-Maria Hughes
Sandra Moore of the Welcome Organisation
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

The head of a Belfast charity has expressed concern that more than a quarter of the UK's recent homeless deaths happened in Northern Ireland.

Sandra Moore, chief executive of the Welcome Organisation, was responding to figures revealed yesterday showing that 205 people died here over an 18-month period.

The findings were published by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) in its annual statement.

In recent years there has been a rise in the number of homeless people in Belfast, as well as reports of deaths within the homeless community.

At the start of this year two men thought to be rough sleepers died within weeks of each other in the city centre.

Out of the 205 homeless people who died within 18 months, 80 were female, including a 101-year-old woman and 25 others aged 80 and over.

Almost half were based in the Belfast area.

Ms Moore said it was concerning that the majority of deaths within the homeless community occurred here.

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Sandra Moore of the Welcome Organisation

She added that it only became a public issue when it happened in extreme circumstances, for example on the street.

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

"Homelessness is more than just a housing issue and can occur as a result of poor health, unemployment or poverty and vice versa," the chief executive said.

"Homeless people are at relatively high risk of a broad range of acute and chronic illnesses which can unfortunately result in premature death.

"People living in dangerous conditions, such as squats or on the streets, are more likely to have unhealthy lifestyles which can cause long-term health problems or exacerbate existing issues.

"Many homeless people aren't registered with GPs, or they find it difficult to keep appointments, only seeking interventions when things become acute.

"The longer people remain without a stable and safe place to live, the more health problems multiply and the harder they are to overcome.

"The crisis within our health services is well documented.

"We need to ensure that those experiencing homelessness - some of our community's most vulnerable people - are not further marginalised as departments compete for funding for particular services or for groups."

The body of Catherine Kenny, from Downpatrick, was discovered outside a derelict shop on Royal Avenue in Belfast shortly after 9am on March 19, 2016.

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Catherine Kenny's sister Lee-Maria Hughes

The 32-year-old mother-of-one, who suffered from psychiatric and addiction problems, had been admitted to hospital three times before she passed away from an alcohol and drugs overdose.

She had lived on the streets for 11 months consecutively, with her older sister, Lee-Maria Kenny Hughes, visiting her on many occasions.

Mrs Hughes had attempted to get her sister - one of five homeless people found dead in Belfast city centre in just seven weeks in early 2016 - into rehab days before she died.

At the inquest into Miss Kenny's death in January 2017, coroner Joe McCrisken said the city's rehabilitation services were insufficient.

Mrs Hughes has raised thousands of pounds for the Welcome Centre and made it her mission to highlight the homelessness crisis in Northern Ireland, to make sure that her sister did not die in vain. She told the Guardian newspaper last month: "I battled every day with Catherine and her addictions for 16 years of her life, from when she was 16 until she was 32 and took her last breath.

"My life was consumed by her, but it was my choice to remain involved, to try to champion her, encourage her, to tell her she was worth more than she believed she was worth."

Launching its annual statement yesterday, the NIHRC said Stormont's near three-year absence had taken a toll on human rights.

Chief commissioner Les Allamby added: "Rising poverty and homeless figures in Northern Ireland give cause for much concern. Behind every death is an individual story and a wider tale of society's failure to properly protect vulnerable people."

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