A charity has said the extent of Belfast’s homeless problem is not as bad as some have made out following the fourth death on the streets of the city in just four weeks.
Sandra Moore, chief executive of Belfast homeless charity The Welcome Organisation, claimed that all four of those who died had accommodation available to them.
A man thought to be his 50s died at a shop front on Belfast’s High Street on Wednesday evening.
Ms Moore said: “The gentleman died at about 8pm. One group engaged with him at 6pm and he was chatting and laughing. He was not a regular rough sleeper but he had underlying health issues.”
Ms Moore said “an intensive package of support” had been available to the man and that he did have a bed to go to.
“Three of those who died this year had underlying health issues. Each one of them was having support from other agencies.
“The first person who died, in his 30s, could have returned to his home at any time. His family were very proactive in encouraging him to come home.
“The second person died in a fast food restaurant. He was known to agencies. The third case was a man who died in his own flat. He was not a rough sleeper.”
Ms Moore’s organisation ran a 24/7 survey of Belfast over three months and found 42 people at risk of being on the street. Every one was being case managed by a multidisciplinary health and housing team.
“Putting a roof over someone’s head is not necessarily the solution. They do not necessarily have the social skills or capabilities to keep a house. Very often they need a package of support,” she added.
Ms Moore said: “There is a myth that the streets are awash with rough sleepers, but they are in single figures on any given night. There are actually more homeless organisations than rough sleepers.”
She added: “We need to find out why these people choose to be on the street. One scheme being used in London is very assertive. It encourages and supports rough sleepers to access shelter.”
Donna Connor from Hope Outreach for the Homeless said the man who died this week was known as ‘Roy’.
“He was a very quiet man who was very well educated and didn’t drink. The only thing he would have taken off us was a cup of tea.”
Mrs Connor believes Roy ended up on the street “because of a relationship breakdown”.
“He had a bit of a chesty cough, but he put it down to a smoker’s cough,” she added.
Alderman Patrick Convery said the Housing Executive has accommodation for everyone.
He said agencies need to work together more closely in order to assist the homeless, but warned that in some instances mental health issues may make it difficult for people to recognise their needs.