Outreach workers in Belfast say a recent street count of the city’s rough sleepers highlights the difference in perceptions of homelessness.
The count – undertaken by the Welcome Organisation, Queens Quarter Housing, Homeplus, Simon Community and the Belfast Health & Social Care Trust – found five rough sleepers on November 30 between 2.30am-5am.
In 2016, the count established that there were 11 people on the streets/sleeping rough.
This annual snapshot, taken at a single point in time, follows standard practice of establishing the number of rough sleepers across Europe and the UK.
Anne Sweeney, assistant director of strategic partnerships, said: “This latest count highlights the difference in perceptions of homelessness and rough sleepers.
“All of the five people we 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.
“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.
“In 2015, we commissioned and undertook the Belfast Street Needs Audit, in partnership with the Welcome Centre, Depaul and Belfast City Centre Management to understand the reality of street homelessness and rough sleeping in the city.
“That 12-week audit found that 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.”
Jo Daykin-Goodall, director of services at The Welcome Organisation, said: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with the Housing Executive and other agencies to carry out the annual street count. It is positive to see that the number of people spending the night on the street is low.
“That is a reflection of the excellent and ongoing work by various agencies, including The Welcome Organisation, to get some of the most vulnerable people in our communities off the streets and accommodated.
“It is important to stress that there is no room for complacency – no-one should be spending the night on the street and we will continue to work closely with the Housing Executive and other agencies to ensure that the numbers remain low and continue to decrease.”
Currently, some £13.7m is provided to homeless services in Belfast which funds in excess of 900 temporary accommodation units and a range of support services.
Sweeney added: “We want to emphasise that there are services, accommodation and support already in place for those people who find themselves homeless in Belfast.
“Many of the people identified in street activity by the Street Needs Audit team were characterised by chaotic lifestyles and poor health and well-being, and proved difficult to engage with and were resistant to offers of assistance.
“All those who work with the rough sleepers on a daily basis continue to engage with those who choose not to avail of the services on offer and to encourage them to leave the streets and move to a place of safety.
“We believe that the low number of rough sleeping in the city is reflective of the work of all the statutory and voluntary agencies involved in dealing with homelessness in Belfast. We are committed to continue to work together to ensure our support is coordinated and further improved.”
Services offered or funded within Belfast
- The provision of day-time and night-time street outreach services
- A day centre that can provide support services for up to 100 vulnerable people
- The provision of 26 crash beds and a night time reception service
- A wet hostel for up to 23 people
- 70 units of intensively managed emergency accommodation
- The provision of 11 direct access hostels comprising 348 units
- 10 hostels of family accommodation with 237 units
- 382 private let properties