Solving homelessness, on a budget.
5 ways you can help solve homelessness as a student.
By Bea Swallow
Reading time: 5 minutes
Two years ago, I uprooted my sleepy seaside existence in Cornwall to begin a new life in Bristol, studying at university. Where I grew up there were undeniably areas of extreme poverty, and a severe housing crisis for locals due to the emergence of second homeowners, but it’s fair to say it was quite rare to see people sleeping on the street.
I experienced a vague form of culture shock moving to the city, and in my first three weeks in Bristol I found it almost impossible to walk past anyone asking for spare change, that I quickly ran out of money myself. I desperately wanted to contribute in some way, but it became clear it wasn’t sustainable to dissolve my student loan into stacks of pound coins.
I began seeking ways in which I could help people facing homelessness on a budget, and have since generated a handy guide for other students intent on playing their part in creating a city empowered to solve homelessness.
As humans, social interaction is crucial to our wellbeing in having a huge impact on our mental health, sense of belonging, trust, and emotional support. However, it is not uncommon for people to ignore, shame, or even ridicule those living on the streets.
Showing small acts of kindness and respect, such as a smile or a brief conversation, are free, easy and can be intensely meaningful for anyone who feels pushed to the very margins of society. Interaction and discussion among your peers and family networks can also be a great way to spread awareness and tackle any existing prejudices about homelessness. It is crucial we acknowledge people facing homeless as people and allow them the dignity and respect you yourself would expect from strangers.
It is a well-known fact that university students are habitually strapped for cash, but there are alternate ways to ‘donate’ without disturbing the cobwebs in your bank account. There are registered foodbanks dotted around Bristol that make it so easy to contribute by often placing collections points at supermarket exits. Whilst conducting your weekly shop, pop a few extra items in your basket to donate on the way out, ideally tinned food, cereal, pasta, rice, and other non-perishables.
Personal hygiene items are also in high demand, as staying sanitary and healthy is one of the major challenges people without permanent accommodation face. Shelters will always be grateful for travel-size donations of shampoo, soap, shaving supplies, tampons, and menstrual pads, so individuals can carry these products with them. You could even offer something further for mental stimulation and enjoyment, like those forgotten books from your first year that are sat collecting dust.
Signing and sharing petitions online is quick and easy. It’s not only a great way of spreading awareness on social media but has become a staple in political protesting as a way of inciting real and lasting change. It is easy to believe as individuals we cannot have a meaningful impact, but petitions at 10,000 signatures receive a response from the UK Government, and at 100,000 the matter is considered for a debate in Parliament.
Banning hostile architecture, providing supermarket food vouchers, or repealing the 1824 Vagrancy Act (making it a crime to beg or sleep on the street), are just a few examples of ongoing petitions that could help to ease the pressure off people experiencing homelessness. If you are passionate about a cause but feel powerless to help it, petition websites will connect you with like-minded people across the globe to build momentum about issues that matter.
Similarly, it is vital to vote in upcoming elections to have your say in how the country is run. Brush up on your knowledge of your local MP and council to make sure you are clear on what each party stands for and the policies they plan to implement regarding homelessness. Supporting candidates that represent your views in Parliament is a great opportunity to make your voice heard, so definitely take advantage!
Speak to your University
Student Unions are put in place specifically to cater to student needs and campaign on behalf of all scholars they represent. If you were to approach them with a cause that really mattered to you, they would be extremely happy to support you in getting it the attention it deserves. It’s also possible to set up your own society solely focused on homelessness, providing you have nine other interested students and establish a foundation committee of three.
UWE Raising and Giving (RAG) society are just one example of a group which spend their time running fundraising events to support local charities, like Caring in Bristol. They encourage new members, bright ideas and exciting ways to raise money, including student speed dating, karaoke nights and pub quizzes. The perfect excuse to throw a party! Bristol University also has a Homelessness Society that focuses on fundraising and volunteering time to help tackle the problems faced by those sleeping rough. It might also be worth speaking to the SU to find out what housing and financial support your university has to offer, in the event you or someone you know finds themselves at risk of homelessness.
For further support or more ideas on helping to solve homelessness please contact a member of our team at Luke.Mitchell@caringinbristol.org.uk