Students from Queen’s University were among dozens of people who braved the elements last night to ‘sleep rough’ in Belfast City Centre in order to raise awareness of homelessness in Northern Ireland.
Belfast-based charity 100 Help the Homeless staged their second annual overnight sleep-out on Sunday aimed at raising funds and highlighting the growing problem of rough sleeping in the city and beyond.
The charity was formed in early 2014 by four people who had worked collectively within the homeless sector for about 10 years.
One of the organisers, Kyle Heffernan, said that following the success of last year’s inaugural event at the City Hall, the charity is continuing to advocate on behalf of the homeless.
This year’s event was held at Royal Avenue and among those taking part for the first time was Oisín Hassan, QUBSU Vice President for Equality and Diversity who described the experience as “a real eye opener”.
“It was a really positive experience in terms of getting to grips with the issue of homelessness and understanding more about what the homeless of Belfast face on a daily basis,” he told The Scoop.
“At the end of the day it was about taking the opportunity to spend time with people facing homelessness now to hear their stories and with those who have experienced it in the past and have come through the other side. I slept on and off during the night but it really was quite noisy. However that wouldn’t deter me from taking part in a similar event again. I’d encourage everyone to become advocates against the stigmatisation and lazy generalisations of the homeless who are among the most vulnerable of people. I met some lovely people last night who are resilient, but they need help and recognition.”
QUBSU VP for Community and 100 Help the Homeless co-founder Paul Loughran was taking part in the sleep out for the second time.
Speaking to The Scoop after the event Paul said that once again, the combination of coldness and noise really demonstrated the awful reality that the homeless of Belfast face every night as they try to get a decent night’s sleep.
“Obviously we were not getting the true experience of the isolation of homelessness given that we were all safely huddled up together whereas in realty those sleeping rough try to hide themselves in order to stay out of danger. That said it is something that everyone should do as both this year and last, people have found it to be a very positive experience,” he added.
The Council for Homelessness Northern Ireland is currently undertaking a three-month street count in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE), the Welcome Organisation and De Paul Ireland because homelessness has become “more visible” across the city. Based on their findings, the intention is to develop an action plan and if necessary provide additional services or remodel those already existing.
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