I spoke at a conference earlier this year and made the comment – homelessness kills people. There was a sharp intake of breath from those in the audience. Why this reaction? It wasn’t because this is a new revelation. It was because in the months running up to that comment, 5 homeless people had died on the streets of Belfast.
The media – rightly so – turned its spotlight on the fact that between October 2015 and March 2016 5 people died on our streets. Media and public attention was pricked because we could see those people – we saw them on the streets or we saw their photographs. Then the spotlight shone elsewhere. In the meantime, 2 more homeless people have died on the streets. There has been little said about it. Perhaps it’s because there’s a number on deaths that are acceptable and a number that provokes an outcry. The outcry number appears to be 5.
Last week, the Irish News carried that story that official statistics show that 53 people deemed legally homelessness have died in the past 12 months. 53 lives gone. Ten times the number of people that provoked the original outcry. Very little has been said though. And why? Because for most, those people weren’t visible. They were in emergency/temporary accommodation, hidden from view but still homeless nonetheless. Out of sight is too sadly out of mind.
Unfortunately, in this instance, I was right – homelessness does kill people. We need to stop pretending that it doesn’t exist. We need to work together to ensure it doesn’t happen again.