In an interview with Exeposé, EX4Homeless Society emphasises the need for more student and university support to mitigate homelessness.
“I think the University has a civic duty to help with community issues such as these,” says Joe Anthony, the President of the society. In July of this year, the Devon Housing Task Force announced a new housing commission supported by the University of Exeter that will address issues such as “housing supply, homelessness, housing affordability, how to create attractive communities, integrating housing with health and care, the impact of short-term letting, holiday accommodation, student housing and second homes.” The commission will also look at how to deliver affordable housing in rural communities while protecting the environment.
Universities ‘have a moral imperative to address homelessness in a place-based way where they operate.’
As happy as the society is for the University to take on this commission, they have hopes that they can expand it: “Part of what we want to do this term is urge the University to also look at homelessness among students, as that’s becoming more possible, especially with a heightened drop-out rate across the country”, Anthony explains.
There is a lack of research on student homelessness which the society wants the University to pursue. In a report by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), Greg Hurst argues that as civic actors in their communities, universities “have a moral imperative to address homelessness in a place-based way where they operate.” The report further suggests that there are higher rates of homelessness in University towns and cities. Whilst there is not a direct link between student populations and homelessness, the presence of a university in a city exerts significant upward pressure on local housing costs as demand for housing from students and career academics minimises the housing supply. Accordingly, the rates of households living in temporary accommodation are more than double in university cities where there are 475 homeless people per 100,000 as opposed to cities without homelessness where there are 218. Rates of rough sleeping are also “three times greater” with 12 per 100,000 compared with 5.
“The population of students in Exeter are responsible for this,” he continues. “We believe that the University has a role to play with Exeter housing issues as it’s a small city in itself and a lot of students live in areas that could potentially be affordable housing for the homeless.”
With nearly 30,000 students at the University of Exeter, most of which are located on Streatham or St. Luke’s campus, a massive student population overtakes affordable housing.
Not only are students dropping out at higher rates, but unaffordable housing among students is becoming more pervasive, leaving some students subject to “couch-surfing” whilst attending University.
They maintain that there is ‘very little high-quality research’ that exists to quantify its scale, although ‘a number of snap-shot surveys and individual testimonies indicate that student homelessness may be significantly under-reported.’
The HEPI report states “it is striking how incurious UK universities and funding bodies have been, as individual institutions and as a higher education sector, in the phenomena of homelessness among students and former students.” They maintain that there is “very little high-quality research” that exists to quantify its scale, although “a number of snap-shot surveys and individual testimonies indicate that student homelessness may be significantly under-reported.”
Homelessness in Exeter is also exacerbated by the practice of released London prisoners being given train tickets. “We have noticed there are a lot of homeless people that take the train from London to Exeter as it’s the last stop on some train lines,” Vice-President Noah Sempala explains. “They come here because sometimes they think these areas will offer more opportunities than bigger cities with larger housing disparities, but it’s not the case as the cost-of-living crisis is national.” Though he expresses that we should not turn away these people, it is currently a difficulty, as there are shortages in available housing and education/job opportunities.
The EX4Homeless committee members commented on how these issues in Exeter drew them to take on the society this year. “When you walk through Exeter, it’s almost unavoidable,” Anthony claims, with the pervasiveness of homelessness combined with Exeter’s small city centre meaning this crisis cannot be overlooked. They are passionate about extending opportunities and ways to mitigate these issues by collaborating with other city organisations. They have worked with Exeter City Football Club, under their charitable organisation, Exeter City Community Trust to orchestrate fun runs and other fundraising opportunities. They also collaborate with St Petrocks, aiding in their soup kitchens and Exeter charity shop. Anthony further highlights that they are working with St. Petrocks on volunteering, to ensure there is an “understanding” of the variable timetables for students so that opportunities can fit around other student commitments.
Gabriel Behzadi, Fundraising Secretary, expressed the society’s aim of having an “awareness drive” around Christmas time. Though Christmas can be a positive period for most, it is often isolating for homeless people, coupled with the hardships of facing colder weather. Anthony adds that this drive should involve food donations, as during the Christmas holidays, “tins and non-perishable goods are left behind” by university students when they could actually be vital for homeless people.
There was also an emphasis on the opportunity to donate non-perishable goods or clothes, as this can be an accessible way to aid homeless people, without requiring any significant time commitments.
The society believes that there are a range of ways that students can get involved to help homeless people. Through membership in EX4Homeless, there are opportunities for volunteering, fundraising and working with and for homeless people. There was also an emphasis on the opportunity to donate non-perishable goods or clothes, as this can be an accessible way to aid homeless people, without requiring any significant time commitments. Donations can be vital, as “though it [doesn’t] make much of a difference to you, it can be a meal or two for another person or warm clothes that are needed,” Anthony explains. With the challenges of cold weather worsening as the autumn progresses, these donations can be even more vital.
For the society in general, the EX4Homeless committee members expressed their hopes of expanding membership, to enable more action to be taken, and for more people to be aware of the issues surrounding homelessness in Exeter. Noah Sempana described EX4Homeless as a “fresh and modern outlook on charitable work.” Contrary to stereotypes of being “mundane”, the society is aiming to make charitable work more accessible and applicable, through a “joined-up approach”, connecting the university, charitable organisations and students. Anthony emphasises that the society is not “just a university group who volunteers”, but a part of the wider community support for homeless people in Exeter.
The Society is holding a Pub Quiz at Henry’s Bar on the 23rd of October to welcome new members from 6-9 PM. No membership is required and all proceeds from tickets go towards St. Petrock’s. Membership for the Society is £5. To learn more about EX4homeless Society follow their Instagram here.