Tradsoc playing at UCD SVP’s Homeless Week. Photo: UCD Societies

With the number of homeless people having grown every month this year, Eithne Dodd examines what UCD students are doing about the homelessness crisis.

Homelessness is a problem in Ireland that is increasing in severity. The Peter McVerry Trust say that the minimum number of homeless people in Ireland as of the 30th of September 2015 is 5,100. The number of people experiencing homelessness in Dublin has been increasing month on month. On the week commencing the 21st of September, 4,999 people accessed emergency homeless accommodation and the number of rough sleepers in Dublin is estimated to be approximately 150 people each night.

Youth homelessness is especially on the rise. UCD’s St Vincent De Paul society actively try to alleviate this problem by going on soup runs every week of the semester and running their annual homeless week initiative.

“It’s an awareness week at its core,” says Auditor of UCD SVP, Ciaran Kelly. “We want UCD students or faculty or whoever it is that walks through UCD to see us sleeping out.”

SVP’s first Homeless Week was held in 2008 with the main aim of raising awareness of homelessness in Ireland and raising funds for the charity work SVP do which includes running youth clubs, homework clubs and soup runs.

On last year’s Homeless Week Kelly says, “we thought it would be small, like it was just going to be the committee sleeping out on the first night, that’s what you’d expect… people started hearing about before we slept out and I remember at the launch just like 15 probably… just walked up to myself and Kate (last year’s auditor) and said ‘can we sleep out with you tonight?’” There was about 20 people sleeping out on the Monday night and by the Thursday Kelly estimates there was about 60 people. “It was like from the library door all the way along the concourse,” he says.

SVP use Homeless Week as a way to raise awareness around homelessness and its issues. They run numerous activities during the week including busking, a leg-wax day, selling tea and coffee, a clothes drive as well as talks and debates about homelessness.

The biggest thing the SVP do during this week is sleep out on the concourse for four days. Some claim that sleep-outs are social events partaken in by the wealthy without any real understanding gained of what it is like to be homeless. “We get people coming up to us all the time about that ‘this isn’t real homelessness’,” Kelly says. “Obviously it’s not real homelessness. I don’t know if I get a full understanding of what it’s like but… you do get a sense of what it’s like to be sleeping out, rough, really cold.”

Kelly also points out that the sleep-out is not the only activity that is run during Homeless Week to raise awareness. “Especially from the equality talks and the debate and our launches, that’s where you get the understanding of the technical side of homelessness.”

Homeless Week is very important for the society. “It’s our biggest week,” says Kelly. “You can’t ignore it… we are in the very middle of campus, as central as you can be.” Not only does it raise awareness, it gets people interested in homelessness issues. “Some of the committee this year are people who walked along the concourse, saw us, asked if they could join us,” said Kelly.

Of equal importance is the money SVP raise from the week long event. “It’s a huge fundraiser… you’ll see buckets everywhere,” says Kelly.

“The money goes towards our charity end… the activities that we run so that would be the soup runs, the youth clubs, the homework clubs.”

While the SVP do try to raise awareness of serious issues that face too many people in Ireland, with Homeless Week, there is room for fun at the event and they do try to get other students from other societies involved in discussing and thinking about the issues surrounding homelessness. “During the evenings you’ve got your information talks, your launch. There’s an equality talk with Economics Society… There’s a debate… with the L&H on the Wednesday and then on Thursday there’s the battle of the buskers which is kind of the big celebration and a thank you,” says Kelly.

UCD students can also engage with and increase their knowledge of homelessness through volunteering to go on a soup run with SVP. “The street homelessness, you get a good gauge of what it’s like but obviously… it’s the rented accommodation or the emergency accommodation which is the bigger homelessness issue at the moment, it may not be as severe but there’s more of it, more people,” Kelly says.

Kelly argues that he sees a lot of interest among students about homelessness. SVP organise soup runs Monday to Thursday every week of term. “They fill every week. Four days a week, 24 people per run,” says Kelly. He also notes that there is more interest than they can accommodate for. “It’s an unideal system in so far as that you can only have a certain amount of people at each training.”

“I remember sticking up a sign up sheet for trainings on a Sunday night and I woke up on the Monday morning and they were three times over full. And I only had one and I wasn’t going to be allocated another one for weeks.”

“They’re so enthusiastic and we can’t accommodate for them and then the problem is that wanes so by week nine, week ten. If you can’t go on a soup run by week nine or week ten you’re going to be like ‘what’s the point in this?’ …That’s our biggest struggle, is trying to keep people motivated while we get through the rigmarole of training them.”

On youth homelessness Kelly says, “Just from personal experience, it’s something I’ve seen hugely increase. I’ve done it for three years now… and it’s something that you see massively increasing… The vast majority I would see are under 30.”

While homelessness is currently on the rise in Ireland, so too are student engagement levels with homelessness in UCD. The numbers at Homeless Week have grown every year since it began in 2008 and this year, UCD SVP society has gained over 1400 member, over 500 more than it had last year. While the problem is not going away, it certainly appears as though students are empathetic towards the cause, and there is a real desire to help those in need on campus.