When you think of homelessness, what do you picture? A young man in a sleeping bag slouched in a doorway in the city centre? Someone drunk on a park bench surrounded by bottles of cider?
While these images tell of the experience of some homeless people across Northern Ireland, the truth about homelessness is that most of the time it is invisible – out of sight and, therefore, out of mind. As part of Homelessness Awareness Week, which runs until Friday, December 4, the Simon Community NI has launched a dramatic awareness campaign that shines a light on the growing problem of “hidden homelessness” in the region.
Hidden homelessness is not a new phenomenon, but it is a growing one, with more and more people finding themselves with less money and less security to ensure they have a roof over their head. You might be surprised to learn that these people do not fit any one stereotype; they are young people, they are families with children, people in employment and older people.
So why do we know so little about this issue?
At present, the Government collects statistics on the number of people who “present” to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive as “homeless”, of which there are some 20,000 people. But, after that, little is known about the people sleeping on the floor or sofa of friends or family, those sleeping in their cars, in bed-and-breakfasts or in unsafe accommodation.This invisible problem is happening in every postcode across Northern Ireland and, yet, officially, the Government has no record of it.Last year, the Simon Community NI received more than 33,000 calls to its helpline, equal to one in every 50 people in Northern Ireland.