A city council is considering providing ‘warm banks’ for residents amid fears their physical and mental health will be affected by freezing homes.
There was united political support for the proposal at Newry, Mourne and Down District Council to provide shelter as a “Dickensian” Christmas approaches.
The request for protection from the cold, as well as a hardship fund, was put to the local authority with one councillor warning the energy crisis could soon see “70% of local people in fuel poverty”.
Slieve Gullion councillor Declan Murphy (SF) who spearheaded the “emergency” suggestion also warned that lives and mental health were at risk.
He said: “I want to see the council offer free access to our heated buildings for people who would otherwise be at home in the cold and freezing, especially as the cost of fuel goes sky high.
“I am part of a local community association and we can see by co-operating with charities such as St Vincent de Paul and even local schools, that we are able to identify those in need of help.
“In some councils they are looking towards hardship funds of people being able to access an emergency amount of money to get oil in to heat their homes. Given the situation that we find ourselves in a cost of living crisis, we as a council should be doing everything and anything that we can, as soon as we can.
“We as a council should be looking further in to how we can better utilise the facilities that we have with such things like cafés, at our leisure centres and the like, to allow residents to come in out of the cold of their own homes.
“People are already suffering in cold homes across the district and it is not just a matter of having no heating. This crisis will lead to poor mental and physical health problems if it is allowed to continue all the way through the winter.
“It is said in recent figures that 70% of people will find themselves inn fuel poverty by January 2023. I don’t like to use the term ‘warm banks’ as it seems rather Dickensian, but essentially that is something that we could be providing.”
A council officer in response to the request at the strategy, policy and resources committee said a report on the matter would be brought back to the chamber in the coming weeks.