Streets of shame: Belfast community's fears over drug-taking and housebreaking at homeless hub
Sex acts in the street, flagrant drug-taking and housebreaking is the harsh reality of life near a homelessness charity, residents living near the outreach centre have claimed.
People living in the vicinity of the Welcome Organisation on Townsend Street, west Belfast, have contacted Sunday Life to express their fear and anxiety at what they say are regular incidents of anti-social behaviour involving users of the centre.
The charity says it provides a range of potentially life-saving services to around 1,400 people affected by homelessness.
It says the vast majority of its users cause no problems in the locality but it is aware of concerns of residents and is working to address them.
Worried residents told this newspaper children had witnessed drug users shooting up and engaging in sexual intercourse in the area surrounding the facility.
They also said there had been incidents in which homes have been entered or broken into and claim people have been sleeping in entries and pitching up tents near the centre.
In September last year, a young mum found a man taking a bath and smoking a cigarette in her home on Fingals Court which is just yards from the centre.
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One exasperated resident, who wished to remain anonymous, told Sunday Life: "We would like these people to be moved away from this area because it has escalated more and more over the years.
"We have nothing against the homeless but the drug use around here has rocketed and it's no longer safe. We can't sleep in our own beds at night, the slightest noise and you think it's somebody coming into your home. We just can't take it anymore.
"They're having sex and shooting up in front of our kids, what kind of upbringing is that for them?
"Where are our rights for the wellbeing of us, our children and old people who live in the area? People have lived in this wee community for 40 years and never had to lock our doors until now. Every day my phone never stops with photos and texts from neighbours, the ones doing it are getting younger and younger too.
"These people need help but the centre needs to be moved to a better facility at a different location to safeguard people living in the surrounding areas."
In September last year, Belfast mum Nikki Kelly (28) spoke of her horror after waking up to find a naked stranger lying in her bath while smoking a cigarette. According to sources in the area this is just one of many incidents causing residents to be fearful inside their own homes.
Sandra Moore, CEO of the Welcome Organisation, said: "Our street outreach provides ground support for people sleeping rough and our drop-in centre delivers respite from the street and a wide range of help so that they do not have to spend another night out on the streets.
"We meet all of their basic needs and without our intervention, Belfast would see many more deaths on its streets. The people we support face many challenges associated with homelessness and some will also have other complex problems including addiction and poor mental health with some of them expressing suicidal ideation which in turn can be challenging to manage.
"We are very aware of the concerns of residents living near our drop-in centre and are actively working to address them.
"We have agreed a community response process with the local residents whereby residents can, and do, contact us directly and we respond to their concerns immediately.
"We take steps to move service users on from the area. However, the vast majority of people using our services are not breaking the law by being in the locality and are respectful of the shared space between ourselves and our neighbours.
"Our engagement currently includes regular meetings with the local resident group and local forums, community representatives in an effort to alleviate local concerns. Although in terms of drug-related incidents, these are low in this area compared to other parts of the city.
"We would obviously want to be able to 'cure' what is unfortunately an increasing societal issue being faced by every community.
"Of course we recognise that having our drop-in centre adjacent to a residential area isn't ideal and the disquiet this can cause."
At the start of the month, the Welcome Organisation drop-in centre was left damaged after a black Nissan Leaf was driven into the shutters in the early hours of the morning.
Ms Moore added: "Welcome is and will continue to make concerted efforts to engage positively with the local community, many of whom are very supportive of our work and tireless efforts to make life better for those who face the trauma of homelessness and the challenges associated with it.
"The extent of that support was witnessed through the number of goodwill messages we received after our drop-in centre was badly damaged."
More information about the Welcome Organisation and the services they provide can be found at homelessbelfast.org