Northern Ireland

Homelessness in Newry 'on the rise'

Rough sleeper on Monaghan Street, Newry
Image caption Rough sleepers have been taking shelter in doorways on Newry's Monaghan Street

Dawn has yet to break on the morning of Storm Diana.

It's dark, damp and windy. Thankfully it isn't too cold.

In an archway at the side of a nightclub two people are sleeping. A passing milkman appears to have left two pints of milk beside them.

But this isn't Belfast or Dublin - this is Newry, County Down.

The early risers, who Barry Johnston greets for breakfast across the street in Grounded café, are concerned about what they see.

Customer Alan Ferris said the pair - a middle-aged man and a woman - have been sleeping rough in Monaghan Street for some time.

"I'm in here every morning," he said. "They've been there for about three months, every night."

Visibly homeless

Builder Sean Mooney said he was soaked to the skin yesterday and was glad to get back into his house.

"What do people like that do?" he added.

Image caption Newry's St Vincent de Paul drop-in centre helps those in need

Retail worker George Chambers said many passers-by do their best to help.

"Some of the customers would take coffee over to them just to keep them warm," he said.

They may be the most visible sign of homelessness in the city but they are not alone.

'Safe spaces'

According to Mario Siotto, who runs the St Vincent de Paul drop-in centre on Mill Street, the number of rough sleepers in the city is in double figures.

"In collaboration with the police in Newry, I helped them make a list of the number of people sleeping rough," he said.

"At the last count in the middle of July there were 18. At least 10 of them are coming here.

"Because safe spaces are at a premium they aren't going to tell you where they sleep, but I know they are nearby."

Image caption Mario Siotto has been helping to monitor the number of rough sleepers

He added: "There are strategic positions where they believe they are safe. When the sun goes down, dark alleys aren't where you want to be.

"They are coming here because at least they have some hot food to eat. We are there in the frontline to give as much help as we can."

Every week, dozens of volunteers from a number of Newry groups work both in the city and in Dublin.

One of those groups is Helping the Homeless, which has been operating for more than three years.

Initially their focus was on Dublin but now they are also kept busy closer to home.

'Hard times'

Aisling McShane, one of the group's volunteers, agrees about the scale of the problem in Newry.

"We started last year doing a lot of work in Newry because a lot of people are under the misconception that homelessness only happens in the capital cities - simply because it isn't as visual," she said.

Image caption Aisling McShane said homelessness encompasses more than just rough sleepers

"We started doing one night a week but that has grown to four nights a week because of the demand. We are in Hill Street and would have approximately 30 people coming to us.

"I think we have about 15 sleeping rough, but homelessness encompasses more than just rough sleepers.

"There are people in hostels, people in emergency accommodation. There will be family breakdowns. There are addiction issues."

She said Newry's homeless population was a mixture of local residents and foreign people who had "nobody to fall back on".

"People assume you'll always have someone and can't understand how you could end up in this situation," she said.

But Ms McShane added that not everyone had someone they could depend on when they "fall on hard times".

Homelessness is a much broader term than simply rough sleeping.

Last year, the Housing Executive said nearly 12,000 housing applicants were deemed homeless across Northern Ireland.

About 800 of them were from the Newry, Mourne and Down council area.

This is a problem without a simple answer, but there are many people in this city doing what they can to try and find one.

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