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Charitable homeless drive fails to find anyone sleeping rough

The Salvation Army's 'Newry Knights' failed to find any street homeless during recent patrols in the city
Paul Ainsworth

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A SCHEMEoffering help for homeless people in Newry has been forced to close after volunteers found no-one living or sleeping rough in the city’s streets.

Run by the Salvation Army’s Newry Knights team, a project dubbed ‘Homeless not Hopeless’ aimed to assist vulnerable people by offering them blankets, food, hot drinks, and general support.

The drive was started following the deaths of five homeless people in Belfast earlier this year, with organisers fearing people in Newry might face the same risk.

However, after gathering a team of volunteers for planned three nightly patrols a week, not one single homeless person was found to be sleeping rough within a two mile radius of the city centre.

Salvation Army Major John Parrott was behind the project and hoped to potentially save the lives of those who had so far failed to access help from housing authorities or other charities.

“After hearing about the tragic deaths in Belfast, we didn’t want the same thing to happen here in Newry,” Mr Parrott said.

“The purpose of ‘Homeless not Hopeless’ was to support those living and sleeping on the streets, by offering blankets, sleeping bags, food, and if they were closer to our offices, bring them in and help them liase with the Housing Executive or the Simon Community in order to receive further help.”

The team did speak with a number of “sofa surfers” – homeless people who have access to temporary accommodation through friends and family. However, there was no-one found without a roof over their heads at night.

“We searched tunnels, old buildings, alleys, but there was no-one needing the support we were offering,” added Mr Parrott, who revealed a previous soup kitchen venture in Newry at the beginning of 2016 failed to attract any homeless people either.

“It’s a positive outcome, as we wanted to establish either that there were no street homeless in Newry, or we would prove there was, and it would give us a reason to improve our services.”

Despite no-one sleeping in the streets, around 400 people are registered as homeless in Newry with the NI Housing Executive.

Elsewhere, homelessness has reached crisis levels, with a recent report showing the problem is at its highest levels on record in Ireland, with Dublin in particular seeing a stark rise in recent years.

“Homelessness needs to be treated as a national emergency,” said Niamh Randall of charity the Simon Community.

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