Sleepout to raise awareness

Mark H Durkan
Mark H Durkan

A cardboard city is a common sight in most major cities, but thanks to an innovative strategy in Derry, people sleeping on the streets is a rare occurrence.

On Wednesday a mass sleepout will take place in the city to highlight the issue of homelessness as part National Homelessness Awareness week.

Foyle Sinn F�in MLA Raymond McCartney. (2809MM20)

Foyle Sinn F�in MLA Raymond McCartney. (2809MM20)

Local politicians will join staff from Damien House to brave the cold and sleep on the street for a night.

Gerry Burns from Damien House, said he hopes the event will raise the awareness of homelessness and the good news that there is a strategy in place to address the issue in this city.

In the last year alone, the hostel has provided 42 men who found themselves in an alcohol homeless crisis situation with emergency accommodation.

“One person sleeping on our streets is one too many if we can help it”, says Gerry. “Thankfully we are not looking at a cardboard city. All the agencies work well to ensure there is no one sleeping rough on the streets and that is what we want to raise awareness about”.

“Even if people are looking down the barrel of having to sleep on the street, the night support service run by First Housing will help to get them emergency accommodation”.

This ensures there are no long term rough sleepers in the city.

“Sadly, there will always be people presenting themselves as homeless but because of the services we provide accommodation is always found for them”.

“It is important particular at this time of year to remind people of the services available if they find themselves in this position”.

Gerry says the night sleeping on the street should help to open his eyes to the situation people find themselves in when they walk through the doors of Damien House.

“It will remind us what we are sparing them from and keep our minds focussed on the cold nights when we have to make decisions”.

Up to 20 people will take part in the sleepout at John Street Car Park, among them SDLP MLA Mark H.Durkan and Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney.

Mark H. Durkan told the ‘Journal’ homeslessness is “a grotesque scar on our society and is most keenly felt at this time of year, with the homeless looking down the barrel of uncertainty and loneliness at Christmas”.

He added there is “great work being done by Damien House and other organisations to address the issue and they have to be commended for their work in helping a great many people”.

Sinn Féin Foyle MLA Raymond McCartney said: “This is a very important initiative to coincide with Homelessness Awareness week. It is hoped that this will raise awareness of homelessness in Derry particularly as people prepare for Christmas. It’s a time of the year when many people feel at their most vulnerable and cut off from the rest of society.

If its wasn’t for the valuable services of Damien House, the Night Outreach Support Service and other vital First Housing Services, the picture in this city might be very different.”