According to homeless charities operating in the city, the political instability at Stormont means there is no funding or strategy in place to help homeless drug users in Belfast. The authorities are being urged to set up preventive facilities where homeless people can find a safe space to take drugs while also having access to help and support to deal with their addiction.
Dr Anne Campbell, from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s University Belfast, told BBC Radio Ulster earlier this week that “An emergency response is required, but we’re still hearing the same issues time and again. We have to bring services to young people who need them if we are to save lives.” Dr Campbell also highlighted the fact that Scotland is getting over £250m and England is getting £270m as part of a substance use strategy, while Northern Ireland is getting just £6m and still hasn’t seen any of that money.
The situation has also been exacerbated by the closure of the only female hostel in Northern Ireland: Regina Coeli House. The workers were promised there would be two new hostels opened in the spring, but so far there has been no development on this.
According to figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA), as of May this year, the number of homeless people in Northern Ireland was 8,497, which is double the figure from just five years ago.
The issue may worsen in the context of the cost of living crisis, with the UK inflation rate hitting a 40-year high of 9.4% today and living standards falling at a record rate across the four countries.
In the absence of a fully functioning Executive, progress is stalled on the issue of homelessness and on many other issues linked to poverty in Northern Ireland.