We almost have a romantic view of being homeless. Rugged men, hiding in doorways and gathering together for craic and living off the food lovely people in the streets have given them. If not, we think of them as begging during the day before being tucked up in a basic but habitable hostel. Their own room.
Their own clothes. Their own food. I had a rude awakening of what homelessness could mean when I was 15 years old and my teacher handed out a novel based on homeless young people and a sheet of statistics…and I was horrified. The romantic view I had was dashed entirely.
But, still, for me, homelessness was a problem for London, or New York. This shock to the system has happened to me again since. When I started volunteering with Help 4 Homeless in 2015.
This is a new experience for me – but it’s so humbling to work with people who fight tirelessly to help people who fight to just survive. Every night of the year, 365 days, 12 months a year, H4H have an outreach team on the streets of Belfast.
Every. Single. Night. Of course we build bonds with the service users we meet every night, week after week. From the little characters that tell you stories about their lives to the big characters that bring us a lot of challenges, but also a lot of love and appreciation.
But recently something has changed. The homeless issue has become something much more urgent. In the last 2 weeks alone, we’ve lost 3 service users on our streets. And homelessness is no longer a big issue for London or New York, but is a massive problem for the streets of Belfast.
Belfast has the highest proportional rate of homelessness in the UK. That includes the likes of Edinburgh, London, and Cardiff. Belfast have the most. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, there has been a rise in the violence and abuse they face every day when just trying to survive in the horrendous conditions of Northern Irish weather. And what to we, as a city, do? Take it from the people on the ground – very little.
Empty buildings lie unused around the city center, student accommodation built in the place of where we could use hostels, lack of support for those suffering from loss, or addiction or mental health issues. And it’s simply not good enough. We as a community, supported by our politicians and supported by our councils need to show initiative and support – and even a little compassion to let these people know that we haven’t forgotten about them.
The rallies in Belfast, the meetings and the outreach show that- but it’s only a dip in the pond for what we need to achieve. At H4H there’s a saying – ‘together we can make a difference’. Together isn’t the minority of the community. It’s every single one of us. And that means you.
Every tiny piece of support helps. Every hot drink bought for a homeless person. Every piece of clothing donated. Every roof over a head. So instead of passing that person on the doorstep of your local shop, or the people struggling to make it by, take back your city and show them there is love, support and compassion for every person in Belfast. #togetherwecanmakeadifference
Article by, Whitney Loren