Northern Ireland news

What to do when you see someone sleeping rough on the streets

People have been urged to give money to frontline charities who work with the homeless rather than street beggars

So what do you do when you see someone sleeping rough on the streets?

The initial answer is the same wherever you are. Specialists and volunteers say having a chat with a rough sleeper, if you feel comfortable doing so, can go a long way. Without being intrusive, it is advised that you might want to ask their name, who they are and what their situation is.

What is somewhat harder is working out what to do next – and this depends on the situation. Here are a few things to consider.

1. Does the person need emergency help? If the person in question is likely to be under 18 or is sleeping rough with a child in their care, this is a matter to refer to the police and social services immediately. If the person is in need of urgent medical attention calling 999 for an ambulance will get them professional help quickly.

2. Will the person be outside in sub-zero temperatures? The local authority and other outreach organisations will work to offer extra temporary accommodation where possible. Contact details for groups in your area can be found online.

3. How do I alert the local authority? People in Northern Ireland are advised to refer rough sleepers to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive as a first port of call. However, it is important to get the person's consent before doing this.

4. Should I give my own money? Many have different views and feelings about giving money to people they meet on the street, and there isn't any right answer to this issue. Some feel more comfortable donating to housing or homelessness charities – of which there are a number – to help tackle the issue. However, if you are unable to help in any other way, there's certainly no harm in offering someone a warm drink, some food or a blanket – or even just someone to talk to for a while.

In Belfast if you see someone sleeping rough you can ring the Welcome Organisation's ourteach team on 07894 931 047

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