On Tuesday the 18th of December, CBH became a pivotal part of the sponsorship programme funding the Homelessness Conference 2018 in Birmingham. Hosted by South and City College on High Street Deritend, the event welcomed guests from a range of different schools and businesses across the area, as well as an array of local community workers, teaching staff and volunteers.
Principle of SSC Digbeth campus Mike Hopkins opened the conference and named the different ways in which the college is contributing to help fight for the homelessness cause. The educational institute is currently working towards providing clothes and food for those sleeping rough on the streets of Birmingham, as well as giving them free haircuts and make-up in order to look presentable for job interviews when they go to seek employment. The principle also highlighted how the college is getting more of its students to acknowledge homelessness by participating in activities such as the soup kitchen, which had been organised on the same day following the conference. SSC also expects its students to educate the older generation about the homelessness in a bid to get more of the local community to volunteer and contribute to the cause.
A keynote speaker of the event was council woman of Birmingham City Sharon Thompson, who is a cabinet member for homes and neighbourhoods. Sharon had her own experiences of homelessness when she found herself kicked out of her parents’ house at the age of sixteen. She spoke openly about having slept on the street, carrying all her washing on foot across the city just so she could get her clothes cleaned, and eating malnourished meals on a daily basis. Sharon has also witnessed drug addiction and violence on the streets. After spending a large amount of time with rough sleepers, she is currently working with the city council to solve this ongoing issue and remove common stereotypes about the homeless community.
Interview with local council member
CBH interviewed Sharon Thompson to gain a greater insight into why the event was organised, and what the city council hopes to achieve by running similar public meetings in the Birmingham area.
- Whose idea was it to host the Homelessness Conference in Birmingham?
My colleague Hannah from the college decided to organise the conference today. It was following on from a visit to parliament we partook in to discuss homelessness and a number of other issues with young people with Erdington Youth Parliament – So this idea sprung from there.
- What are you hoping to achieve from hosting the conference in the SSC?
I’d like the young people to have a greater awareness of homelessness and the practical things they can actually do to support the cause. But also for the college as an educational institute to think about what they can do, not just in terms of helping those who are street homeless, but those who might be studying or working here who may be facing homelessness – and signpost them in order to give them a better educational experience.
- What kind of a turn-out were you expecting at the conference and what future aid do you think will come about from hosting an event such as this?
The turn-out today has been great! I think it was the numbers they were expecting, especially on a rainy day such as this. It’s good to have so many different colleges and organisations involved in the meeting, but the important thing to consider is the next stages and what those in attendance plan to do in the future. It would be great if there was 10% of those involved in today’s conference that go on to do more activities surrounding the homelessness agenda.
- Would you run this conference again in the upcoming months, what are your future plans in terms of helping the homelessness cause?
I would like to think that the college hold another event soon where they can talk about the activities they have done between now and then to support the cause. I would also like to imagine that we have more people who have experienced homelessness come and speak, and we can update the college about some of the things happening across the city. Hopefully at that point the homeless numbers in Birmingham would have improved. It’s important that the college has a voice, as students here have been a part of the Erdington Youth Parliament, who have gone on to create a manifesto. Certain pledges in that manifesto have actually influenced some of the things we’re doing in the council. So it’s all about making sure people’s voices are used in a very meaningful way rather than just having a debate.
Since 2010 and up until 2017 last year, there has been an 169% increase recorded in the number of rough sleepers in the city, a figure which is currently still on the rise. There are now over 20,000 adults and children without a permanent home in the UK. At present, there are over 450 cases of homelessness that Birmingham City Council deals with per month.
It is important for the public to understand the different types of homelessness. As not all homeless people are rough sleepers out on the streets. There are those who have been placed in temporary accommodation such as B&Bs, others may be ‘sofa-surfing’ and stopping at homes of friends and certain relatives. There are also people who work or study full-time, but still face homelessness and are having to sleep overnight in their cars. It is vital for us to understand the structural inequalities an individual may face from an early age that can lead to future homelessness. These factors can include things such as; poverty, social inequality, drug-abuse, domestic violence, and so on.
What is being done to help the homeless on the streets of Birmingham?
Luckily there are a number of different local organisations across the city that work to tackle homelessness, and reach out to help those staying on the streets. Some of these include St Basil’s, a homeless charity who work with young people aged 16-25 in the areas of Birmingham, Sandwell and Dudley, Solihull and Coventry. There is also the Department for Work and Pensions whom work in partnership with homelessness organisations. The DWP and Job Centre Plus (JCP), work effectively to help support people with their homeless situations and benefits claims to reduce the likeliness of sanctions. The national charity for homeless people, Crisis, also works one-to-one with the homeless and offer unconditional support and courses across 12 areas in England. They aid people in getting the skills and healthy well-being they need in order to get their lives back on track for good.
At present, there is a street intervention out-reach team within the Birmingham city centre who patrol regularly to give whatever aid they can to the homeless. This includes a fully qualified medical nurse to take care of any physical or mental health issues rough sleepers may be currently facing. There are also enforcement officers to help prevent people from going into and exploiting the homeless community, who are already considered a very vulnerable group of people. This includes preventing street crime in Birmingham such as violence and drug trafficking.
During this winter, the abandoned Bowie Jackson Tower in Birmingham is being converted as a shelter to house the homeless in the cold months of January and February 2019. The flats will be used as floor-space for new beds and sleeping bags that rough sleepers may use. A Severe Weather Emergency Prevention Plan (SWEPP) has also been launched in the city. This aims to install 130 extra sheltered beds to keep people off the streets in sub-zero temperature conditions.
How Capital Business Hub has been involved
CBH acted as one of the main sponsors funding the Homelessness Conference at the Digbeth campus. Business strategy manager Aksar Khan of CBH attended the conference at the SSC in order to gain a deeper understanding of the issues surrounding homelessness in Birmingham, and what the public can do to help. Aksar and CBH manager Juleka Bazlul were actively involved in the College’s Soup Kitchen, where students and members of the local community were also volunteering to give away free food and hot drinks to rough sleepers in the city. CBH donated goodie bags to the homeless containing energy bars, sweets and snacks as a kind gesture during the festive season. Also attending the event were community youth worker Zaf Mohammed Bem and motivational speaker Kul Mahay. Media coverage was carried out by AsianWorld Newspaper and A1 TV.
What you can do to help the homeless in your city
- If you see a rough sleeper in your area or as you’re passing through the city centre, you can report them through the organisation ‘Street Links.’ As a result, help will immediately be deployed to help the person/s get into shelter and giving them food, water, medical aid and clothing.
- If you have any spare change you can go online and visit changeintoaction.org.uk , where you can donate to the homeless directly. So far over £12,000 has been donated in aid of the homelessness cause in England alone.
CBH will be running homeless community projects on foot throughout the Birmingham area each month in 2019. If you have food or clothing you wish to donate, or you want to volunteer to help rough sleepers in your city, you can reach out to Juleka Bazlul on the CBH number at: 0121 773 2020.