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Amnesty International Society on Homelessness

Amnesty International Society's President, Rachel Hearn, talks about this term’s topic, homelessness, and how she’s getting York students involved

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Image Credit: Eleanor Beckett

It has been a turbulent time for homelessness in the UK over the past 18 months. With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing people to stay inside, many have found themselves trapped outdoors. This term, York’s Amnesty International Society, headed by President Rachel Hearn, is looking into ways the University and York students can help tackle the fight against homelessness.

Why have you chosen the topic of homelessness for this term?

“We decided to do a joint campaign across the North-East, with unis like Hull, Leeds, Durham and Newcastle. We all jointly decided to work on homelessness because it is a prevalent issue in the North East and is a local human rights problem. Homelessness is an interesting topic as it’s something that we can see in the streets around us and, since the pandemic we’ve noticed that it’s become much more of an issue.”

Homelessness is a significant problem in the North East of England, with young people reportedly making up a large proportion of those without a steady home. In addition, the pandemic has forced many of these young people onto the streets as temporary accommodation has become harder to find.

How do you think the pandemic has affected homelessness in the UK?

“During the lockdown, people were very much forced to stay in their houses. With schools not being open and people working from home, there was nowhere to escape to. This made it difficult for people forced to flee from domestic violence or abusive families, or situations where families don’t accept them. As a consequence, many people, especially young people, were forced to turn to the streets.”

As one of the world’s leading human rights organisations, Amnesty International seeks to help those dealing with various issues, including abuse. Homelessness is just one of the many consequences of domestic abuse and has become a common avenue for many young people when trying to seek refuge. Sadly, there are some who are more likely to deal with these circumstances than others.

One of the meetings is on intersectionality. Could you explain what that’s about and why it’s important?

“Amnesty likes to link lots of human rights issues together. Statistically, people in the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to become homeless than those who aren’t. This can be because young people are forced out of their homes by unaccepting and threatening households. We want to look at ways to support these people and prevent homelessness for future generations in York and across the country. We also don’t only want to look at homelessness in the UK, but more globally. One of our meetings this term will be on Afghanistan and the issues of homelessness that Afghans face when seeking refuge in other countries - one being a lack of adequate houses.”

This term, the Amnesty International Society is hosting fundraisers and events to get more people talking about homelessness and what we can do as a university to get involved. Ranging from music events to just having a chat, there is something everyone can do to support the fight against one of the world’s largest human rights issues.

What is Amnesty International doing to help homelessness?

“In our York branch, we are trying to raise awareness through the different information sessions we hold every week. To reach out more broadly, we are hosting a webinar with the other groups in the North-East to try and reach a wider range of people. Also, on the 24 November, we are holding a music event that will raise money for Amnesty and the charity ‘Changing Lives’. This is a charity that supports people experiencing homelessness, domestic violence, addiction and long-term unemployment.”

So, what can you do to get involved?

Rachel asks that people come along to the weekly meetings at 7pm every Monday in D/L/047, next to The Courtyard. In these sessions, they’ll be talking about different topics of homelessness every week if you want to have a chat or sit back and listen. Here you can buy your Amnesty T-Shirts, which sell for £15. All profits go to Amnesty and the student charity SolidariTee, which supports refugees. They’ll also be posting the webinar link on 19 October on the University of York Amnesty International Facebook page. Also, watch out for tickets to the music event, which will be released soon!

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