Homeless 'rough sleepers' in city reduced to 'single figures'

A man sits on the benches used by rough sleepers that were restored at Jubilee Square in Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann.
Seanín Graham

THE number of rough sleepers in Belfast has reduced by more than half over the past year - with just five people found during an overnight count.

Housing Executive staff led the annual exercise between the hours of 2.30am and 5am on November 30 helped by workers from organisations including the Simon Community, Welcome Organisation and the Belfast health trust.

The development follows a controversial decision earlier this month by Belfast city council to remove benches from a public square used by rough sleepers. The move sparked an outcry and the benches were reinstalled in Jubilee Square last week.

A similar survey carried out last year found 11 people on the streets overnight.

The figures are in stark contrast to the homeless crisis in Dublin, where latest counts show a record 184 people are sleeping rough - an increase of a third on the same period last year.

Anne Sweeney of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive said all five people they encountered were "known to the services".

"Two of them have their own homes, another had hostel accommodation and the other two declined any housing help," she said.

“In recent years there has been an increasing visibility of people sleeping rough in Belfast city centre streets and beyond. We, like many others, have been concerned about this trend. Whilst it important to measure this on a regular basis, our priority is to make sure these individuals are receiving the help and shelter they need."

Two years ago, a 12-week audit found there were on average six rough sleepers on the streets of Belfast.

"We established that much of the rough sleeping activity is related to street drinking and begging. This latest survey confirms that," Ms Sweeney added.

Jo Daykin-Goodall, director of services at The Welcome Organisation, said that while it was positive to see a reduction in numbers, there was "no room for complacency".

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