On 7 December, a ‘Women in Homelessness’ event was hosted by TedxUniversityofEdinburgh and Edinburgh University Students’ Association, which concentrated on raising awareness of diverse challenges facing women in homelessness.
‘Women in Homelessness’ coincided with Women’s Aid’s ‘16 Days of Action Opposing Violence against Women’ campaign. The night also kicked off a 10-day campus-wide sanitary product collection, which took place until 17 December. TedXUniversityofEdinburgh is also running a one-day ‘It starts with passion…’ conference on 21 February based around tackling similar issues.
‘Women in Homelessness’ hosted three speakers: Kathy Betteridge from the Salvation Army, MasterCard Foundation Scholar, Soufia Bham, and Marzena Farana from Streetwork Hub.
Betteridge kicked off the event, speaking about her experiences working with the Salvation Army’s street-work program. She urged the audience to consider the question of what constitutes a home, and who experiences homelessness, by broadening traditional definitions of homelessness to encompass trafficked individuals.
Betteridge discussed how internal trafficking of women is visible in Edinburgh. She explained that many of these women have been trafficked into sex-work and many experience domestic abuse at ‘home.’ She further discussed signs of human trafficking and how to look out for them, reminding the audience that often things aren’t as they appear to be.
Bham was the subsequent speaker. The focus of her discussion was the increased vulnerability of LGBTQ+ women in homelessness. She detailed circumstances of individuals coming out to their parents and being subsequently kicked out of their parents’ home. She then outlined how apt accessibility to shelters for homeless individuals is often complicated by specific needs related to gender, race, sexual orientation and disabilities, among other things.
Bham discussed how shelters that cater to youth are often gender segregated and when LGBTQ+ youth need to access shelters they are commonly assigned to a gender that they might not feel comfortable with, often also experiencing segregation within these spaces, oftentimes precipitating a move back onto the streets. Her central message was the importance of listening to people to discover their individual needs, and how suitable assistance can be provided in kind.
The final speaker was Farana, who discussed Streetwork’s vital role amongst the homeless community in Edinburgh. For women, specifically, the organisation runs a Women’s Project, which Farana heads. They also operate a crisis service, housing support and a street-youth project.
She spoke about how the public constantly labels homeless women with statuses like ‘crazy,’ ‘alcoholic,’ ‘drug-addict”—and that migrant women are especially vulnerable to being labelled—whilst emphasising the importance of recognising the people behind these labels.
Farana then discussed various complex issues women face, such as high rates of domestic abuse, which she noted is one of the main reasons women become homeless.
She explained that many homeless women turn to selling sex to survive and that most women who become homeless are more vulnerable than men in terms of safety and propensity for mental health issues.
She said that often women try to make themselves invisible out of shame and in fear of being attacked. She also discussed the inaccessibility of sanitary products, individual concerns over children being taken away, and an issue of language barriers when the women in question are migrants. She reminded the audience to not turn a blind eye to these people.
After the talk, The Student spoke to Edinburgh University Students’ Association’s Vice President Services, Jenna Kelly, about the event, and other opportunities for Edinburgh students to get involved in the cause.
“The University are working with us on this particular drive, and providing us with all the collection bins, branding and locations around campus. That’s going to run up until Christmas, and there have been a few students who have come in to speak to us about an interest in working with homelessness initiatives in the city, Kelly remarked.
“It doesn’t just end with sanitary products or ‘Women in Homelessness.’ I know there are some veterinary students who give free veterinary care to pets of homeless people, medical students who give free medical care and students who deliver duvets at Christmas. So, what would be really nice to see is a lot of students getting together and even a volunteering group that’s dedicated to tackling issues of homelessness year around.
“It would be great to have more events like this on various related issues. We’ve got a great activities office who do a lot of volunteering groups—who sporadically get involved—but hopefully we can see an evolution of more interest and action taken against these issues.”