Leading article

James McClean sets strong example over rough sleepers

The issue of homelessness always need to be treated as a priority by the authorities, particularly at this time of year as temperatures dip below zero.

Some familiar factors, linked to drink or drugs, can be involved, but other less predictable developments can push individuals into difficult and dangerous positions.

As campaigners regularly point out, a family dispute, the break-up of a relationship or even the loss of a job can quickly result in serious wider consequences.

People from a range of backgrounds may find themselves in a sudden downward spiral, but, as the latest figures from the Stormont Department of Communities confirmed, single males remain the largest single group presenting as homeless.

It is important that advice and support is readily available, and it is fortunate that a number of committed voluntary organisations play such a vital role across the community.

Housing officials on both sides of the border must also take a measured approach to the pressures they face, and it is essential that an appropriate level of suitable accommodation, including single bed occupancies, can be made available.

It will be noted that, according to a report from the Dublin Region Homeless Executive yesterday, the number of rough sleepers in the capital has risen from 110 to 156 so far this year.

In extreme cases, when vulnerable figures find themselves on the street, they need to be treated with understanding and sympathy.

A classic example of how not to respond came almost exactly a year ago when council staff abruptly removed wooden benches which had been used by rough sleepers at Jubilee Square in Belfast city centre.

After detailed coverage in The Irish News drew an angry public reaction, the seats were swiftly restored to their previous location off High Street.

The very different form of intervention by footballer James McClean which we reported yesterday was hugely generous in every respect.

A relative revealed that Mr McClean had paid for six Romanians who had been sleeping rough in the centre of his native Derry to be put up in a four-star hotel for several days.

His gesture will not solve the homelessness problem in Derry or anywhere else but it demonstrated a sense of compassion which is capable of taking the entire debate in a much more positive direction.

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