A group of MLAs focused on homelessness policy and legislation yesterday (Monday 5 September 2022) visited two specialist hostels in Belfast to witness first-hand the work done by those working on the frontline of the homelessness sector in Northern Ireland.

The All-Party Group on Homelessness was formed in 2021 to hold evidence sessions with Executive departments, statutory bodies, the homelessness sector and people with lived experience of homelessness to seek improve this society’s response to homelessness.

The MLAs visited two hostels which specialise in harm reduction approaches in relation to substance use: Stella Maris - a service run by Depaul (Ireland)- and Extern’s Ormeau Centre.

In light of the tragic deaths arising from overdose in Belfast, it was especially valuable for MLAs to hear directly from staff with expertise in these approaches.

This is the first time that the All-Party Group has visited frontline services since it was formed in 2021.

All-Party Group Chair, Ciara Ferguson MLA, said:

“As Chair of the All-Party Group on Homelessness, I want to thank Depaul and Extern for hosting a visit from the APG yesterday.

“It was inspiring to meet with staff who are so committed to making a difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

“The homelessness sector faces serious challenges with the impact of the cost-of-living crisis and financial uncertainty. I know that APG members will be pushing hard to see the change we need to see to ensure this crucially important sector can thrive.”

Gavin Adams, Director of Extern said:

“For over 40 years Extern’s Ormeau Centre has been at the forefront of providing services for people facing homelessness and down the years has evolved to supporting service users in harm reduction.

“We very much welcomed the opportunity to open the conversation with the All-Party Group yesterday on a number of critical issues.

“These include the tragic recent rise in drug-related deaths on the streets of Belfast and the need for long-term solutions to this, such as the creation of a dedicated Overdose Prevention Facility in the city.

“It is crucial that those who have the power to create and shape policy and who manage the financial resources are given a real sense of the challenges which are being faced on the frontlines, both for staff and for those who we support.

“We hope that they will be able to take what they have learned from their visit and bring this back to their colleagues at the highest levels for further action.”

David Carroll, CEO of Depaul said:

Depaul is heartened to receive this visit from MLAs, in line with the objectives of the All-Party Group on Homelessness to improve our society's response to homelessness.

“It is crucial that the experience of our service users and the expertise of staff working directly with homeless people in frontline services, such as Depaul's Stella Maris service, is at the forefront to ensure an enhanced understanding of and response to the critical challenges currently faced.

“We urge the Stormont Assembly and Executive to re-establish as soon as possible to prioritise funding and supports vital to continuing work to address and reverse homelessness across Northern Ireland.”

Nicola McCrudden, CEO of homelessness sector representative body Homeless Connect, which provides the secretariat to the All-Party Group, said:

“The homelessness sector is under enormous pressure at the current time. Members of the All-Party Group had the opportunity to hear first-hand some of the significant challenges facing the sector.

“With the cost-of-living crisis deepening, homelessness services are being impacted by rising costs. Staff working in the sector, providing vital services to some of the most vulnerable people in our society, are struggling to make ends meet.

“We continue to call for the restoration of the Executive and for the devolved Assembly to return as soon as possible. If we are to prevent and reduce homelessness here, we need political leadership and financial certainty for services operating here.”