Northern Ireland news

Two homeless people die in Belfast over Christmas

Two homeless people have died in Belfast over the Christmas period. Picture by Hugh Russell
Brendan Hughes

TWO homeless people have died in Belfast over the Christmas period, a city councillor has said.

A woman, thought to be in her twenties, died in hospital some days ago, while it is understood a man of a similar age was found dead in a flat on Wednesday.

Both used homelessness services.

Paul McCusker, founder of Homeless Aware, expressed concern over the deaths and called for greater support for those suffering from drug and mental health problems.

The SDLP councillor warned that without renewed efforts to tackle these issues, there could be further deaths in the coming months.

"There are a lot of young homeless men and women who are involved in drug addiction issues. There needs to be serious intervention before there are more deaths," he said.

Mr McCusker, who takes part in regular outreach work with homeless people, described having to alert emergency services last week after finding people on the streets unconscious from drug misuse.

He said there were problems particularly with heroin and so-called 'legal highs'.

"Last week while on outreach we came across quite a lot of people unconscious," he said.

"There is an issue with a lot of them taking legal highs. They would take legal highs and go unconscious. They're at a stage where you need to get them medical help.

"There's people obviously out selling drugs and earning money off the homeless. There's people preying on the vulnerable and what they're essentially doing is causing death."

The councillor described homelessness as a "difficult and complex issue" and said people are finding it difficult to access proper health services.

"Giving a person a bed for the night is only treating a symptom. We need to be looking at wraparound support," he said.

"There are certain homeless people who are on and off the street, in hostels, who have a lot of drug addiction issues. These people need intense support for these issues."

Mr McCusker added that he has contacted public agencies including the health department, Housing Executive and PSNI in a bid to organise a joint meeting to discuss the issue.

"I feel that if there isn't more support put in place then there is definitely going to be more deaths," he said.

Two homeless people have died in Belfast over the Christmas period

Meanwhile, a homeless woman has said she had to be dragged from a tent she was living in after it caught fire in Belfast city centre on Christmas Day.

Sheila Marie Fordoine said she was in the tent with her boyfriend on Lower Garfield Street when the blaze started at around 10.30pm.

She said her partner had to pull her out unconscious.

"We were severely burnt in the fire, it was absolutely terrifying," she said.

"We are being released from hospital, but we have nowhere to go."

Police said on Thursday the cause of the fire was believed to have been accidental.

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