Social Development Minister, Mervyn Storey, addressed the rising number of homeless in Northern Ireland during today’s Question Time. The Minister countered that there has actually been a small decrease of 3% in the last five years. Mr Storey also added “homelessness has been at the top of my list of priorities since I came into office. Over the past month, having visited many hostels and facilities, I have learned at first-hand of the experiences of a number of vulnerable and marginalised individuals in our society. While the decrease in homelessness figures is quite small, it is a step in the right direction, and we are in a far better place than many regions. ” The Department will show its commitment by providing £35m of funding to homelessness services. This will fund help for those in emergency situations, work to prevent homelessness and to provide appropriate advice, as well as housing support services, through the supporting people programme. The Minister continued, “While I am satisfied that the work that we do has a positive impact on the lives of many, I know that there is no room for complacency. Homelessness is a complex issue that requires a number of organisations to continue to work together to tackle it.”
Mr Storey then provided an update on the current situation with the Syrian refugees welcomed to Northern Ireland before Christmas. The Minister confirmed that 51 refugees arrived in Northern Ireland on 15 December 2015. Mr Storey was delighted to report that “the plans that we put in place worked very effectively. The arrangements at the airport worked extremely well, and the refugees were taken through the necessary processes and transferred to the welcome centre without incident. The refugees stayed at the welcome centre in Belfast for three nights. During that time, they were helped through and provided with essential information and help that we believed it was important for them to have.” The Minister added that one of the interpreters, who assisted in the process, said that he had worked at several similar locations in other parts of the United Kingdom and the quality of response in Northern Ireland was, by some distance, the best that had been seen. Mr Storey also confirmed that, as far as he is aware, there has been no unrest among local residents during the settlement of the refugees.
The Minister also answered questions on the redevelopment of South Belfast, the Tenant Participation Strategy, town and city centre development, neighbourhood renewal and welfare reform.