Editor's Viewpoint: Rough sleeper's death in a Belfast city centre doorway cries out for answers to tragic plight of NI's homeless
Robert James was a visitor to Belfast. He was from Dublin but came to the city a few weeks ago. But unlike most visitors he was not here to see the sights or bed down in some hotel. Instead he was sleeping rough on the streets and yesterday morning he was found dead, huddled in a doorway in the very centre of the city. He was only 27.
What a pathetic end to a life that no doubt one time was filled with hope and promise. We may never know what drove him into a life of such self-loathing that he did not feel he could reach out to family or friends to help him in his time of crisis and instead lived like a vagrant.
The comment of one person in our report on this tragic death should bring us all up short. He said that news of another death on the streets on Belfast is not as shocking as it once was, and that is in itself shocking.
He is right. Surely we should never become inured to the news that some person spent their last moments on earth dying in a doorway in our capital city in 2019?
The conundrum, which no large city seems able to solve, is how to prevent such deaths. We cannot praise highly enough those organisations and volunteers who go out every night with clothes and food for the homeless people. Their work is magnificent but the problem is deeper.
No one chooses to sleep rough unless they are in a desperate plight, often exacerbated by dependency on drugs or drink and often accompanied by mental health issues. All these complex needs feed off each other and require professional treatment and support. But there quite simply is not enough of either. The sister of a young woman who died from a drug overdose in a Belfast shop doorway three years ago recalls how promise of rehabilitation intervention came too late to possibly save her.
Like her, Robert James was not just a homeless person but a person like anyone one of us whose life sadly had plunged out of control. These huddled figures deserve our compassion and a properly funded strategy to help them.