Today the Equality Cant’ Wait (ECW) campaign held a Christmas Vigil at the empty former Mackie’s site in Belfast, calling on politicians to act NOW to ensure homes are built on the 26 acre site.
Since ECW was launched in 2012 by mothers and toddlers living a hostel in north Belfast the campaign has supported over 150 families to challenge two successive housing Ministers and three separate Housing Executive Chief Executives regarding human rights abuses they experience .
The families are now calling for a major new house building programme, targeted at areas where need is the greatest, to support thousands experiencing similar chronic need and inequality.
They have gained the support of United Nations bodies, the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner, the Children’s Commissioner, the Human Rights Commission and 49 MLAs, including 5 Executive Ministers.
The Mackie’s site, located between north and west Belfast, is one of five windfall sites (capable of delivering over 1000 homes in total) which the families have identified across Belfast to tackle social housing shortages.
They wrote to 49 MLA's who previously pledged to do all in their power to tackle religious inequality in housing asking for their active support to ensure the opportunities for housing and employment in areas of need don’t go to waste. The Sinn Féin
Social Developmenet team at Stomont, including Alex Maskey MLA and Fra Mc Cann MLA and Belfast City Councillor Gerry Carroll from People BeforeProfit joined the protest and added their support. Social Development spokesperson Dolores Kelly MLA (SDLP) sent a message of support and the action was widely shared by elected representatves online.
Nichola, a mother of 2, has been on the waiting list in west Belfast for two years.
She said: ‘I lost my private property when I was made redundant after 9 years of work. Ever since I have been living in damp, private properties found for me by the Homeless Support Unit of the NIHE. My kids’ health has got worse and the stress and anxiety has been terrible. There are many families like mine. We need our politicians and housing authorities to work with us to build homes on the land we have found.’
John, a north Belfast man made homeless after being wrongly accused of housing benefit fraud, is now separated from his daughter and grandson who are living in costly private accommodation while they wait for an offer of a permanent home.
He said: ‘Living in a hostel is not safe or stable and it wears you down. The way we are separated at the minute is not right. If they were to build houses on these sites it would go a long way to bringing my broken up family back together’
The families have met with and secured the support of NIHE Chief Executive and the NIFHA Chief Executive.
PPR development worker Seán Brady said: 'Every week a new family joins the campaign. Whilst fighting daily battles to be heard and seen by housing officials these same families have rallied international and domestic support.'
‘But homelessness and inequality is on the rise and the promised positive action has not happened. If the energy and commitment of these families was matched by those with decision making power – at every level from Community to Council and Assembly to Executive – the problem would be dealt with. Concrete commitments to build housing on Mackie’s, Dunnes Stores / Hillview, Sirocco, Monagh Bypass and Belfast Harbour is the Christmas present these families deserve – and it is in the gift of our political representatives to deliver’