THE grim reality of life on the streets came to Antrim this week, with a man sleeping rough just yards from the town’s Housing Executive offices.
The man, believed to be in his 40,was first spotted on Church Street at around 9am on Monday morning (September 24) - but by 3pm he was fast asleep in full view of startled shoppers beside the former First Trust Bank.
Ignoring a bench right beside him, he chose instead to lie on the pavement.
Concerned for his welfare, staff from a nearby charity shop came to the man’s aid and offered him a sleeping bag.
He gratefully accepted, but he declined an offer to link him up with the nearby Food Bank. Perhaps his pride got the better of him, or perhaps he knew he had nowhere to cook any supplies they gave him.
And there he lay. Many walked on by, but others did go over to enquire about his welfare.
Among them was Paul Michael, the Mayor of Antrim, who crossed Market Square to offer his help.
“He seemed a bit groggy, but he told me that he was okay,” Mr Michael said.
“I asked him why he was sleeping there and he said he was fine - because he was ‘well used to it’.
“I tried to find out where he came from and he said he was from ‘all over’.
“It was a desperately sad scene. I can’t imagine too many sleep rough by choice, yet here we have a man doing just that in the heart of Antrim town centre.
“There must be something seriously wrong when a person just lies down in a busy place to rest. It suggests to me that this is a sign of someone who has given up - someone who has fallen through the cracks of society and who’s been left without hope for the future.
“I’ve never seen anything like it before. As I stand here today, I am deeply shocked and profoundly saddened.
“I am Mayor of this Borough and I’m very proud of that - but I take absolutely no pride in the fact that this man felt he had no option but to sleep rough.”
However, the Mayor paid tribute to the local people who tried to intervene.
“I saw people going over to check if he was alright, and I applaud the charity shop who offered him a sleeping bag.
“It’s getting very cold at night, so that kind gesture will make a huge difference.”
But keeping out the wintry chill is merely addressing one of the symptoms - the real problem is how the man found himself on the streets in the first place.