I am wary of commenting too much on homelessness, but Micky Murray has worked with homeless people for many years. His take on the decision by Belfast City Council to cut away benches used by them is authoritative, and repeated here:
Following the decision by Belfast City Council to *cut away* benches that are used mainly by the homeless I contacted some of our Cllrs to relay my disgust, they have contacted the council to have the issue addressed, but being as issue close to my heart I couldn’t stop there so I’ve writing the following to the Belfast City Council.
For seven years I worked in the homeless sector with a few different organisations all based in the city centre, as most of our homeless services, outreach, voluntary groups and social security, not to mention the constant policing of the city centre, people who are homeless gravitate to the area for service provisions and safety.
Today I read an article in the Irish News that the council have removed seating from an area where many homeless people socialise, but it wasn’t just straight forward as removing the benches, the council actually cut away the wooden part of the benches, leaving the concrete sides and part of the wood connected to the concrete, I find this completely heartless. What opinion does this give to the homeless and others about how our council treats the homeless, the most vulnerable people in society, people who don’t have a home?
I know that many would make out that the homeless crisis in Belfast is bigger than it is, many would also like to make out that it’s not as bad as it is, I’m fully aware that on any given night there are anywhere from 4-12 rough sleepers in the city centre, and I would like to think that you agree that is 4-12 people too many. Although, homelessness is not just rough sleepers, it’s people who are using temporary accommodation, people who live in squats, people in hostels, anyone who doesn’t have a permanent home for themselves.
Back to the original issue, the benches. Where do people go during the day when they don’t have a home? Many of the people within the homeless community go to Jubilee Square and socalise, some of them have substance misuse issues, some of them don’t, some of them don’t even socialise, they sit there because there is other people there and they feel safe. Cutting away seating so that they cannot sit there doesn’t help to address the homelessness issue or any ASB issues we have here, all it does it give the message to anyone homeless in Belfast that the council don’t care.
I know that during the December full council meeting of Belfast City Council a motion on homelessness was put forward, so I know the council care, I know there are people there who genuinely want to make a difference. Cutting away seating so that the homeless cannot sit there because some people have an issue with it is not the way to show that our council cares, it’s not a smart use of council resources and it certainly doesn’t do anything to contribute toward helping the homeless.
I find this decision by the council completely and utterly heartless.