Belfast Telegraph

Slats on benches used by homeless people in Belfast to be reinstalled

Benches used by homeless people in Belfast city centre are to be reinstalled.

Wooden slats from benches in Jubilee Gardens at the junction of High Street and Victoria Street were removed under order of council officials as part of a drive to improve the area.

The move sparked anger among councillors, with Sinn Fein's Jim McVeigh saying the decision to remove slats from the benches had not gone in front of the chamber.

The decision to remove the slats was defended by UUP councillor Jim Rodgers, who said there had been a high number of complaints and criminality, and the council had to show leadership to improve the area.

On Thursday evening, Alliance councillor Kate Nicholl welcomed the decision to reinstate the bench slats.

"The decision to remove the bench slats was taken by Council officers, without input from the Councillors. I have been liaising with Council since then and gave the opinion the benches should be reinstated immediately unless inter-agency experts advised otherwise," she said.

“Of course the Council must tackle anti-social behaviour but unfortunately, there were aspects of this issue handled poorly by them. That is unfortunate, as there is much excellent work being done by them and others, especially over the winter period."

The move was also welcomed by Green Party MLA Clare Bailey, who said she was "glad that this shameful decision has been reversed".

“While there are technically enough beds in the city, Belfast City Council need to begin to understand the reasons why a small number of rough sleepers feel safer sleeping on the street than accessing hostel accommodation.

“Technically there should be enough beds in the city, but many people won't use them. However, removal of these benches will simply move the problem elsewhere without dealing with the cause,” she said.

Statistics released by the Department of Communities showed that in the second quarter of 2017, 4,650 households presented as homeless.

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