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Editor's Viewpoint

Crisis on our streets needs urgent action

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People sleeping at the entrance of the Grand Opera House in Belfast

People sleeping at the entrance of the Grand Opera House in Belfast

People sleeping at the entrance of the Grand Opera House in Belfast

Northern Ireland director of homeless charity Shelter Tony McQuillan made an apology for “sounding like a broken record” while talking to the Belfast Telegraph yesterday about the continuing crisis on the streets of Belfast.

We’ve been here before and unless there is a concerted effort to address the rising number of deaths on the streets of Belfast, we’ll be back here again in the not very distant future.

Two more dead at the weekend make it 14 in the space of a few weeks. There seems no end in sight, but the answers, as far as charities are concerned, could be staring people right in the face if only there was the money and the will to do what is needed.

No one chooses a life without a home. There are underlying issues, usually of the most serious nature, which leave them with nowhere else to go. And to mask those troubles many turn to addiction as temporary respite from what they face in life is seen as better than none at all.

The consequences are all too visible.

As one caller to BBC Radio Ulster put it yesterday, “these are people where there’s a pilot light of life just flickering in them”. Keeping that light flickering should be priority number one. Finding ways of firing it up should come after the life has been saved. There has to be an agreed way forward, a vision that all departments of the NI Executive can work towards.

That, according to the relevant agencies who see the devastation a lost life on the streets can cause, needs the long-term budget agreed by the Executive, which has now fallen off the radar as the Executive is no longer properly functioning.

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There is a call to begin providing safe places for addicts to go, to take them away from doing drugs in the dirtiest corners of the city, and into ‘protective centres’ or ‘consumption rooms’ where they can do so a little more safely. But that’s not about simply giving people free rein to take drugs. That’s about bringing them to a place where they can find the help they need to address the underlying issues that got them in their addicted state in the first place. It’s about providing a different path through life, a better path.

It will take a conscious decision from politicians to allow drug use at these locations, but only by acknowledging that the problem exists can we even begin to find the best ways of tackling it.

There is an emergency situation needing dealt with. It’s just sad that it takes a mounting list of deaths before it’s even reached the stage where there are meetings to discuss what happens next.


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