Belfast Telegraph

Plea to group behind homeless pod

City council urges Common Law NI to come forward and arrange meeting

By Rebecca Black

The anonymous group behind a sleeping pod for homeless people will find an "open ear" at Belfast City Council if they come forward.

The wooden capsule appeared at Jubilee Gardens at the junction of High Street and Victoria Street before Christmas for one day. It was removed but reinstated on January 19.

The six by three feet wooden box - complete with a charging point for a phone and radio - was described as a social experiment aimed to provide shelter for the homeless by an activist group called Common Law Northern Ireland.

However, Belfast City Council officials removed it again on January 26, citing health and safety concerns.

These included concerns that the wood was made of a combustible material, that no risk assessment had been carried out, that there was no public liability insurance, and that it had been placed on council land without agreement. Common Law NI appears reluctant to speak to the council face to face, although correspondence has taken place by email and telephone.

A third party collected the pod from the council for the group on February 4, it was then reinstated on February 11, but yesterday had been removed again.

Sinn Fein councillor Niall O Donnghaile made a direct appeal to the group to meet with councillors, and said they would find an "open ear" and "willingness" to listen.

SDLP councillor Pat Convery said he was concerned about safety issues around the pod. He cited an example where two homeless men sleeping rough in Belfast had experienced a person sprinkling lighter fluid on them and trying to set them on fire.

His party colleague Pat McCarthy revealed the group were concerned about being prosecuted. He assured them they would not be, and urged them to come forward. "I don't think one person in this chamber would not have sympathy with those that find themselves homeless. But putting pods around the city is not the answer," he said. "Common Law, come and speak to us - prosecution is not our intention."

Lord Mayor Nichola Mallon said she would make her parlour available for the group if they came forward.

DUP councillor Christopher Stalford said he felt the debate had "at least provoked a discussion" about the important issue of homelessness.

He blamed the Housing Executive for homelessness, claiming it is a symbol of their "failure".

Common Law NI will be invited to take part in a meeting of the council's Parks and Leisure committee on March 12 along with the Housing Executive for a discussion about finding a long-term resolution to homelessness in Belfast.

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