Extern, Homeless Connect and the Welcome Organisation are jointly calling for more resources to be made available to manage the growing drugs problem and prevent further drug-related deaths on Belfast’s streets.

The groups, including the Regional Service User Network, met with Belfast Lord Mayor Tina Black on Tuesday (August 2nd) to discuss the extreme pressures they are currently facing on the frontline.

This includes the urgent need for more resources to support people struggling with problem drug use and counter the despair some have experienced due to the existing resources not being able to reach those who have sadly lost their lives.

The call comes in response to an escalation in the number of drug-related deaths this summer, currently believed to be 15 to date. Many of these have occurred within the Greater Belfast area.

Among the key areas discussed with the Lord Mayor was the immediate need for the creation of rapid referral pathways to ensure that those requiring support are able to access this more quickly.

Both Extern and Homeless Connect have reflected the views expressed by all of those present at the meeting.

More lives could be saved

Dr Gavin Adams, Director of Extern, said: “This was a wide-ranging discussion at which all of the organisations present were able to share their views on the current situation and the actions which need to be considered. All were agreed that we are now dealing with a serious health issue on our streets.

“We have heard many calls for action in recent weeks in response to these tragic deaths, but this often overlooks the fact that action is already being taken by all of those organisations present, and many others, to save lives. This is happening through such initiatives as needle exchange programmes and the distribution of the anti-opioid drug Naloxone, as well as the multi-agency approach shown by the Complex Lives project.

“These short to medium term interventions are doubtless saving many lives already, and so many more could be saved if they could be scaled up through the greater allocation of resources to those agencies working on the frontlines.”

He added: “The group welcomed the opportunity to share these and many other ideas and areas of discussion with the Lord Mayor at this week’s meeting. We look forward now to finding ways in which we can translate this into immediate action to help manage the growing issue of problem drug use in Belfast City Centre.”

Need for a functioning Executive

Homeless Connect CEO Nicola McCrudden said: “As the membership organisation representing the homelessness sector here, we want to applaud the excellent work being carried out daily by staff in temporary accommodation projects, and on the ground providing street outreach and drop-in. Without their intervention more lives would be lost.

“Whilst many of the individuals who tragically lost their lives were experiencing homelessness at the time, this is primarily a public health issue. We are aware that work is happening to better co-ordinate statutory and voluntary services to support those who are chronically homelessness in Belfast City, but that additional resources are needed to roll this out.

"The lack of an Executive at Stormont is not helping. With the right policy choices and proper resourcing, across government departments, homelessness can be prevented and reduced. We need a functioning Executive and parties to commit to positive policies and funding which will help change this situation."

“Statistics show that the number of households in temporary accommodation across Northern Ireland has substantially increased over the past three years, to over 3,500 households, up 75% during this periodThis is putting pressure on already stretched services, including their staff.

“The issue of rough sleeping is a complex one and whilst understandably the public want to help, perhaps volunteering to go onto the streets themselves, I can reassure people that there are services who are funded to do this work. Making a donation either money or items they need such as warm clothes, toiletries or sleeping bags would be greatly appreciated.”