Northern Ireland homeless charity's benefits warning'

People sleeping on the street The report said one in 18 adults in Northern Ireland had experienced homelessness

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Homelessness in Northern Ireland could rise because of the pressures on social housing and benefit changes, a charity has warned.

Crisis is urging the Northern Ireland Executive to take action to protect the vulnerable.

A study by the charity for single homeless people and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that one in 18 adults had experienced homelessness.

That is 6% of all adults in Northern Ireland.

That figure includes everyone from those living on the streets to people who have no option but to stay with relatives or friends.

Niall McCarroll who works for the Londonderry housing project, Shepherd's View, said he had witnessed the effects on young people.

He said it had happened over the last number of years, since the austerity measures came into force.

"With people losing their jobs and family break-ups, people have been turning to alcohol or drugs to find some sort of coping mechanism or release from reality."

Mr McCarroll said in Northern Ireland, there were a number of young people living with friends who could be classed as the "hidden homeless".

The study's authors said homeless figures in Northern Ireland have been at historically high levels since 2005/6, in part due to the collapse of the housing market.

They found that young people, renters, single people and lone parent households were more likely to have been homeless.

Leslie Morphy, chief executive of Crisis, said: "Northern Ireland faces a period of enormous flux, with upheavals to the welfare system, rising pressure on social housing and sweeping reviews of policy.

"This report is an early warning signal. It is critical that the Northern Ireland Assembly monitors homelessness and safeguards services in this time of radical change.

"There must be a safety net to protect the most vulnerable. Crisis is concerned that for many people struggling on low incomes, these changes could be the tipping point that places them at risk of homelessness."

Julia Unwin, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: "Households in Northern Ireland have already faced a dramatic fall in their income during the downturn. There is now is a real opportunity to provide low-cost, good quality homes to meet the needs of the poorest.

"Failure to do this risks pushing more people into increasing financial hardship and homelessness."

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