Councillor raises issue of rough sleepers following reported accident
By Diarmuid Pepper
Newry SDLP Councillor Michael Savage is calling for the authorities to step up their efforts in accommodating and helping rough sleepers.
This comes after claims that a rough sleeper was injured in a car collision on New Street in Newry, which is along the Newry Canal.
It is understood that the man in question either slipped or fell at the bank where he was thought to have been sleeping rough. He is said to have been struck by a vehicle, but is believed to have sustained only minor injuries.
Cllr Savage told The Examiner that he has raised concerns about the potential dangers that face people who are rough sleeping in that area.
However, he also said he acknowledges that this is a life choice for some and that he would be working hard to accommodate people who may wish to live this way.
Savage said: “I have been working for the past six months with a number of agencies to see if we can get people like this moved to a safer location. My understanding is that members of the PCSP, the Newry DEA co-ordinator and PSNI community officers will meet early next week to try and find a resolution to the problem.
“The bottom line is that this is not a safe location for them. We need to provide a safe location for them, via the likes of the Housing Executive. We must work hard to accommodate them wherever they believe they are comfortable moving to – whether that is a move to a similar outdoor space that they are comfortable living in or whether we try and get them facilitated through the Housing Executive with somewhere to live.
“For some of these people, it is a life choice and that is how they want to live so it is a case of trying to facilitate them somewhere safer. I am concerned that if this continues for much longer someone could end up very badly hurt.”
Savage believes that the agencies involved are working well together but has put forth some proposals which could help mitigate the issue.
“We need to be cutting the trees back to ensure that it doesn’t become a magnet for rough sleeping because it is too dangerous a location. Major haulage traffic comes through there from Warrenpoint Harbour. I couldn’t live with myself as a local councillor if I wasn’t ensuring that the people who are living there are given assistance to access a safer location or the opportunity to be housed.”
Savage commended the work of local charities that are working hard in the city, but said that the Council needs to take the lead in this issue.
“We have some fantastic organisations in Newry that help but on this occasion I think the Council has to take the lead in working with the Department for Infrastructure and other agencies to try and get a resolution to the problem and try and work with these men to encourage them to move somewhere safer.
“There has been a spike in people coming and seeking help; the likes of St Vincent de Paul and Newry Helping The Homeless is doing great work. But the Council and statutory bodies have an obligation to try and do whatever we can to support these people and to give them every opportunity that we can to house and shelter them.”