Charities warn of growing homelessness crisis in Newry

January 7, 2019

Homeless volunteers in Newry have warned of a growing homelessness crisis in the city, with the numbers of rough sleepers estimated to be in double figures. 

Speaking to BBC Reporter Cormac Campbell about the scale of the problem last week, local homeless charity group representatives claim homeless numbers are on the rise in Newry, disproving the common misconception that homelessness is confined to capital cities. 

Volunteers say many of those sleeping rough in Newry are not local, with most travelling from their own towns or cities to avoid the stigma of being homeless in their local communities.  The homeless charities also underlined that homelessness is much more than rough sleeping, adding that the plight of young people  without a permanent address who are forced to “sofa surf” or live in hostels and emergency accommodation cannot be ignored. 

Mario Siotto, who runs the St Vincent de Paul drop-in centre on Mill Street in Newry, said the number of rough sleepers in the city may be close to 20. 

Mr Sotto has been helping to monitor the number of rough sleepers and collaborated with the PSNI in Newry last year to compile a list of the number of people sleeping on the city streets.  He claims there were 18 rough sleepers on Newry’s streets at the last count in July 2018 with at least 10 of those people attending the drop-in centre regularly. 

The charity volunteer said he knew some of the homeless were sleeping in “strategic positions where they believe they are safe.” 

He said they come to the drop-in centre to at least avail of a hot meal. 

“We are there in the frontline to give as much help as we can.”

Concerned early morning workers in Monaghan Street in the city told the BBC of a homeless couple- a middle aged man and woman – who have been sleeping in the archway of a nearby nightclub for the last three months. They say passers-by often bring coffee and hot meals to the couple to do their best to help.

Every week, local charity, Newry Helping the Homeless, sends dozens of volunteers to work both in Newry and in Dublin. The group, which has been operating for more than three years, initially focused on Dublin but, with numbers increasing at home, they say their services are kept busy in Newry.

One of the group’s volunteers, Aisling McShane, said what started as one night a week on Hill Street in Newry has now grown to four nights a week, with around 30 people coming to the group for a hot meal, clothes, blankets, a tent or sleeping bags – anything that the group can offer to help. 

“I think we have about 15 sleeping rough, but homelessness encompasses more than just rough sleepers,” said Ms McShane, who said Newry’s homeless population was a mix of local residents and foreign nationals either on the streets, in hostels or emergency accommodation and many with addiction issues. 

Tommy Jones, who also volunteers with Newry Helping the Homeless said many of the city’s rough sleepers are part of an influx from other towns and cities and come from “all walks of life.” 

Mr Jones said the homelessness crisis is worsening across the country and blamed a lack of resources and services to help  those in need.  

“We’re on the front line, we’re at the coal face and we’re doing our best to do what we can.  In Newry,  we only have the Simon Community, there’s nothing else for them – so it’s either the street or their friends that take them on.”

Official Housing Executive figures from last year revealed that out of almost 12,000 housing applicants deemed homeless across the north, 800 were from the Newry, Mourne and Down council area.

To find out more about Newry Helping the Homeless or how you can volunteer, visit the group’s Facebook page.