Three people experiencing homelessness said to have died in January

Homelessness charities say that three people who are known to their services have passed away in the month of January.

Those working and volunteering in the community say that woman in her 20s and a man in his 40s died on the streets of Belfast city centre this month, while another man died in a hostel on New Years' Day.

The lady who died is said to have been a mother, and was found dead in a tent.

Neither the PSNI nor Department of Health could confirm these fatalities.

This is sadly not the first time that deaths in these circumstances have occurred.

16,000 people registered as homeless in the year 2021/22.

Last Summer, as many as 15 people died in the space of a matter of weeks.

It is understood that although each case is a life lost in unique circumstances, in many cases, homelessness, mental health issues and drug or alcohol addiction played a part.

It is a pain that Colleen Higgins knows too well.

Her brother Brendan died on the streets in March 2022.

Aged just 32, he was gripped by addiction issues and she described her brother as much loved, but a troubled soul.

"Everybody knew him, every shop knew him.

"You couldn't go anywhere without people saying, 'ach wee Brendan, wee Brendan!

She says his friends still stop her to tell her that they remember him as "brilliant".

Colleen says that the authorities failed her brother, accommodation needs to be coupled with mental health and rehab services.

A system such as this is known as "dual diagnosis".

Today, she met civil servants, along with the families of seven other people who have also had their lives torn apart by homelessness, mental health and addiction problems.

Hopeful for promises of change before the meeting with civil servants from Health, Communities and Justice, she came away with more questions.

"Absolutely no further forward," she said.

"They could not give answers...

"I told them I'm there to be a voice for Brendan and for other people.

"It's not going to bring him back - I want him to rest and rest in peace, but the fact is it's 2023 and it's still happening.

"Two weeks ago, a young mother died. Come on guys," she said, imploring Stormont's politicians to sit around a table together.

The group met with civil servants in the absence of an Executive.

Colleen said that the delegation promised to take what they had to say onboard and utilise it to formulate decisions going forward.

A Department of Health statement said: "The Department organised an engagement event where these families could speak about the impact of their loss, and about their views on existing service provision. 

"This was a cross departmental event with colleagues from the Department of Justice and the Department for Communities also in attendance.

"We would like to thank the families who attended and spoke so eloquently of their loss.  The views of the families on current service provision have been taken on board and will be factored into the ongoing services that will be developed as part of the implementation of the new Substance Use and Mental Health strategies."

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