Editor's Viewpoint: Homelessness and food banks shame us
During this period of inclement weather it is disturbing to be told that the Welcome Organisation, the Belfast homelessness charity, has been forced to launch a round-the-clock outreach programme because of the increasing number of people sleeping rough in the city.
The charity has also introduced a 24-hour helpline to encourage members of the public to report sightings of people sleeping rough so that its volunteers can offer assistance.
It is significant that for the second time in 24 hours a voluntary-sector organisation has laid bare the visibly tattered blanket of our state "safety blanket".
The Trussell Trust, which operates a network of food banks throughout the UK, revealed only yesterday that the number of people in receipt of food parcels in Northern Ireland has increased by almost a third to 17,571 in the sixth months to September. Heartbreakingly, as many as 41% of these (7,260) were children.
Regrettably, in recent years there has been a steady rise in the number of homeless people in Belfast, which has drastic effects. At the start of the year two men - both believed to be rough sleepers - died within weeks of each other in the city centre.
On a more positive note, the Housing Executive is supporting the Welcome Organisation in extending its outreach programme from the city centre to the greater Belfast area. This is to be warmly commended.
However, voluntary sector organisations, which as their name suggests are heavily reliant on public donations, should not have to carry the burden for what should be obviously a function of central government. The fact that all its citizens should have access to food, clothing and accommodation is a vital prerequisite of any civilised state worthy of the name.
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As with food poverty, the primary response should come from government. Lives should not be dependent on the generosity and goodwill of individuals, and the virtual army of volunteers who nobly give up their time to look out for those who are worse off.
The situation is so complex that it requires a concerted effort from those with powers to do something positive about this terrible social problem.
Meanwhile, the centre of power itself, the Stormont building, remains empty of ideas and of the people whose responsibility it is to get something done about homelessness and so many other social issues today.