On 28 March, Pleasance Upper Hall played host to the Edinburgh Homelessness Conference 2019, which aimed to to create a network for students and charities alike on the topic of aiding and raising awareness on homelessness in the city.
Following the success of the 2018 Edinburgh Genocide Conference, which raised awareness of genocide around the world, a group of students pioneered, organised, and presented the conference, which was led by Robyn Ma and Niamh Martin-McGarrigle.
The event sought to engage students with the reality of homelessness and equip them to make a difference in their cities. There was substantial interest in the conference, as demonstrated by the presence of students hailing from Glasgow and other areas in Scotland.
It can be hard to engage students with the reality of homelessness, one committee member argued. The event was designed in order to connect students with what is truly happening, as well as destigmatising homelessness. With plenty of space for dialogue between attendees, the event allowed for connections to be built with those working in the charity sector.
In the morning, representatives from various charities in Edinburgh spoke to an audience of approximately 80 people. This included a Q&A panel, where students could voice questions they had about homelessness.
One representative from Crisis, a charity that operates across the UK, commented that it was hugely encouraging to hear the perceptive questions that students had to offer. Attendees expressed an interest in understanding legislation, social attitudes, and opportunities for practical involvement around homelessness.
There was then a selection of charities, which ranged from those based in Scotland and across the UK to student and university-led initiatives.
In the afternoon, each charity was given the space to set up a stall, allowing students to have one-on-one conversations with people who work with those experiencing homelessness.
One woman manning a stall expressed excitement at seeing how students were willing to give time and energy to see change. Another commented that it was helpful for the charities themselves to see what other institutions exist that share a similar goal.
Students who attended the event remarked that they “did Sleep in the Park but didn’t want it to be a one-off thing,” and expressed an interest in become volunteers with “organisations that already have structures in place” to aid those living in homelessness. After visiting several of the stalls, they left equipped with numerous flyers instructing them on how to get involved with what the charities are doing.
The event was mainly orchestrated and run by a group of 10 independent students who are passionate about the topic. After observing the strategies and engagement style of the Edinburgh Genocide Conference this previous year, the students were able to use similar techniques in order to make the Edinburgh Homelessness Conference a success.
Homelessness in Edinburgh has been an increasingly large issue.
In combination with rising austerity measures within legislation, alongside soaring rent prices and shelters reaching capacity, homelessness has sky-rocketed. What has added to the issue is the stigma that has been raised around the topic, further perpetuated by tabloid media such as The Sun, or continuous social stigma.
Through the Edinburgh Homelessness Conference, students aimed to eradicate any assumptions and allow people to further understand the systematic issues homelessness stems from – as well as further understand how to offer aid.
Ultimately, the event exemplified the success of student initiatives in gathering students and charities around a common vision: to seen end to homelessness. Hopefully, through continous efforts from the group and beyond, the conference can continue into the upcoming years.
Image: Edinburgh Homelessness Conference