Homelessness if growing in Northern Ireland.
Economic malaise in Great Britain typically manifests themselves in a greater magnitude in the UK’s Irish outpost, and this time is no different. According to reports, rising unemployment and home repossessions are forcing thousands of people into the streets of Ulster.
Spending cuts proposed by a cash-strapped coalition government in London will likely also exacerbate the problem.
Sandra Moore, director of Homelessness Services at the Welcome Organization (WO) in Belfast, told UTV News: I think there is a hidden problem particularly in Belfast whereby it is not just as visible as it would be in London or Paris hence people assume that there isn't really an issue. We have concerns about what will happen in the future. Already this year we've assisted 855 individuals through the drop-in centre and those would be people who are struggling to manage.
UTV highlighted the problems of Matt Powell, a chronic alcoholic, who has been on the streets for 18 years, despite having two children.
Life's hard but you get by day by day, he said, adding that he couldn’t survive with the assistance of WO.
Another homeless people, 24-year-old Charlene Woods, told UTV: I just couldn't afford to rent especially with not having a job. It's very hard to pay for rent. Also, there was no room at my family's home. It was very hard and very depressing.”
In the city of Derry, homelessness appears to be linked to chronic alcoholism as well as to the economic downturn. Reports in local media cite increasing numbers of young people with chronic addictions sleeping rough in the streets.
The Derry Journal describes the problem as a “huge crisis.”
Gerry Burns, manager of Damien House, a homeless shelter in Derry, told the paper: “People so often take for granted the roof over their head and with the issue of homelessness there is often a feeling of out of sight, out of mind. These people never set out to end up like this. Each and every one of them is someone’s father, grandfather, husband or son. When people come to our door in need we don’t tell them we are sorry for their troubles and put them back out on the street. We aim to address their basic needs.”
He added: “There isn’t a city in the world that doesn’t have a street drinking or rough sleeping problem. The huge concern for us is that is on the increase, particularly with young men and women. We are now no stranger to this sort of lifestyle killing people at a very young age.”
Unemployment in Derry is at 8.4 percent – the highest such figure in Northern Ireland, according to official statistics. A staggering 12.1 percent of the men of Derry are jobless.
According to The Citizens Advice Bureau, Derry is also burdened by high unemployment and debt.
Jackie Gallagher, manager of the Bureau, told the Belfast Telegraph newspaper that things are likely to worsen in the near-term.
“With all the cutbacks and the increased cost of living for gas, oil, electricity and food, people are really struggling to get by,” she said.
“What we are seeing is young people coming in here, including young parents who are applying for jobs and people do not even have the courtesy or decency to reply. That feeling of helplessness is almost palpable, you can see the despair in their faces. Increasingly people are talking about leaving Derry, going to Australia. We are also seeing a change in clientele. Not just people dependent on benefits, but now we are seeing solicitors, estate agents, businessmen, professional people.”
Sandra Duffy, a local social worker, told the Telegraph that government cuts will particularly strike the young and jobless.
“Many of the young people we work with are not in employment; most do not even see employment as an option as they know the jobs just aren't out there,” she said.
“Any that do manage to secure employment, find themselves in low paid positions where they are not even guaranteed hours on a weekly basis. This as you can imagine will play havoc with their finances and often results in young people finding themselves in a position where debt is becoming a problem.”
Duffy added: “It concerns me that with the wide sweeping Welfare Reforms that area coming, we are going to see many already disadvantaged young people, being hit hard, many families are facing a cut in benefits and will suffer additional financial hardships, which may lead to relationships breaking down due to the stress and pressure they will be placed under, with the likely outcome being that more young people will find themselves homeless. These young people will then struggle to find appropriate accommodation that they can afford, their incomes will be low, whether they are on benefits or in employment and many will be faced with living well below the poverty line, struggling to pay rent, buy food and heat their accommodation.”