Northern Ireland news

Tributes left in Belfast shop doorway where homeless man died

Police and forensic officers at the scene on High Street in Belfast city centre where a homeless man died in a shop doorway. Picture by Hugh Russell
Marie Louise McConville

THERE were calls last night for the introduction of a "crisis intervention service" for the homeless community in Belfast following the sudden death of a rough sleeper.

The body of the man, who is believed to be from Dublin and aged in his mid-thirties, was found early yesterday in a shop doorway on High Street in the city centre.

The man's body was discovered by an outreach team from the Welcome Organisation.

The team called paramedics however it is believed he was already dead.

The PSNI was also informed.

A tent was put up at the scene yesterday morning while forensic officers examined the area.

A post mortem examination is due to be carried out to establish the cause of death.

Efforts were under way last night to inform the man's family.

The death comes almost two years after a 49-year-old homeless man was found dead in Belfast city centre. The man was discovered in the doorway of a shop on Castle Place in February 2016.

At the time, he was the third homeless person to die in the city centre in just a few weeks.

Earlier that month, another man was found in the doorway of a shop on Donegall Place.

And a homeless man in his late thirties was found dead in the toilets of McDonalds, also on Donegall Place.

Last night, tributes including lit candles and flowers - one of which bore the message 'Robert James Rest In Peace' - were left at the scene.

Speaking to The Irish News, Sandra Moore, CEO of the Welcome Organisation in Belfast, said the man who died had been known to her outreach team.

"Our outreach team comes on at 7am in the mornings and they go out on the road and the teams are out until 2am," she said.

"The team that finishes at 2am does a handover as to who was on the street and where they were and the first team that comes on in the morning goes to check on them to encourage people to come into the Welcome Organisation so we can try and encourage them to take accommodation.

"Unfortunately, the team on High Street this morning tried to rouse a man. He had passed away. They called for medics and the PSNI.

"It's an exceptionally hard job at the best of times but for there to be an unexpected death like this really does take its toll. Our staff had been working with him and he'd been linked into other agencies."

Ms Moore said those sleeping rough are the "most vulnerable in society in terms of health".

"Mental health, physical health are all impacting factors," she said.

She added: "It's typical of the situation in Belfast at the minute".

"Regardless of whether beds are available, some people choose to be with their friends and stay on the streets. It's not necessarily a lack of beds," she said.

"Regardless of the circumstances, it is tragic and my heart and sympathy go out to his family receiving this awful news."

Paul McCusker, co-ordinator of St Patrick's soup kitchen in Belfast city centre, said there was "sadness and devastation" following the man's death.

"The key thing is, no-one should be sleeping on the streets," he said.

Mr McCusker, who is also a SDLP councillor, said "better access to hostel provision" was needed. He said a "crisis intervention service" should be set up so homeless people with addiction issues can get more support.

"We need to intervene right away, people can become entrenched. Homelessness is a crisis," he said.

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