A homeless Polish man who was sentenced to six months in prison for squatting in a flat during sub-zero temperatures at Christmas has been released but he still has nowhere to live.
Robert Lewandowski (29) broke into an empty flat on Christmas Eve when temperatures fell to -10°C. He was found there by the owner when she returned after the festive break four days later.
He hadn't stolen anything and had kept the apartment tidy. He had used the cooker to heat food he had bought and he had watched television. Lewandowski became homeless after losing his job in a recycling charity.
Last week, he was charged and found guilty of theft and wrongfully taking possession of the property in Tates Avenue in south Belfast. Campaigners said that after appealing the sentence, he was given a three-month suspended sentence and freed from Maghaberry prison on Thursday.
Maciek Bator of Northern Ireland's Polish Association said: "Robert is free but still homeless. He doesn't have any financial support. He isn't allowed to claim any benefits and organisations such as the Northern Ireland Housing Executive have been unable to find him accommodation.
"What if temperatures again drop to sub-zero levels? His only option could once more be to commit a crime to save his life."
The Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities is attempting to find Lewandowski emergency accommodation.
After losing his job and apartment, he had started sleeping in the communal areas of the block where he'd once lived. On Christmas Eve, he used keys he had previously stolen after spotting the door to a flat in the complex lying open.
The owner found him asleep on the sofa. He made no attempt to run off. On hearing his story, both the owner and police were reportedly sympathetic to his plight. However, Lewandowski was still charged and sentenced to six months.
Ukrainian worker Oksana Sukhanova had her legs amputated after contracting severe frostbite when sleeping rough in Ballymoney, Co Antrim, during freezing temperatures in 2004.
What kind of person would press charges against another human being in such circumstances? A little bit of compassion never mind Christian charity would have been in order.You can judge a society by how it treats it's most vulnerable and there but by the grace of God go I.