The St Mary’s Social Justice Advocacy Group attended an exhibition and discussion focused on the issue of Homelessness in our society.
‘STILL SOMEBODY: Voices for Change’ was facilitated by the Westcourt Centre as part of Homelessness Awareness Week 2016.
The event incorporated a photographic exhibition and two short films which were produced by men and women from Mater Dei family service, Morning Star House, Simon Community NI and The Welcome Organisation.
The images and films shared experiences of what it’s like to be homeless, sleeping rough or staying in temporary accommodation from the perspectives of men, women, families and young people.
The focus of the afternoon was to give a voice to the homeless and show the reality of homelessness as told by those directly impacted by it. The film screenings were followed by a panel discussion featuring:
• Grainia Long, Commissioner from the NI Human Rights Commission
• Ricky Rowledge, CEO of Council for the Homeless NI
• Brian O’Kane, Housing Solutions & Support Manager for NI Housing Executive
• Fra McCann MLA and Sinn Fein spokesperson on Housing
• Severina Kelly, Specialist Adviser from Housing Rights
• Paul Armstrong, Practice Officer from the NI Federation of Housing Associations
Grainia Long opened the discussion by talking about homelessness from a Human Rights perspective.
The audience which included homeless service users from the Morning Star and Rosemount House hostels were then invited to address the panel of speakers. The aim was to give them the opportunity to put questions to and have their voices heard by the housing authorities and local government.
Pupils from a number of schools currently involved in social justice work with the Westcourt Centre took part, including Deanby Primary, Mercy College and St. Mary’s CBGS from Belfast, and The Abbey CBGS from Newry. The Edmund Rice schools network in England was also represented. They learned directly from the speakers what they can do in practical terms to lobby policy makers and advocate for change.
Members of the Edmund Rice network around the world joined via a live video link to show their support and stand in solidarity with homeless people in Belfast. These included schools and ministries from Cork, South Africa and Argentina as well as participants from a homeless project in India.
St Mary’s Year 11 student Carter Wickham spoke to the panel about his involvement with the Northern Ireland Commission for Children and Young People (NICCY) and how children living in temporary accommodation are being deprived of their basic human rights.
Joseph McVeigh, a Year 12 student in St Mary’s spoke of the school’s Social Justice Advocacy Group visit to Stormont in June at the invitation of Minister for Communities Paul Givan MLA. They delivered over 600 letters to the Minister from the school asking pertinent questions of the Minister’s department in relation to its work in tackling homelessness. Despite this, Joseph said, there still remains a huge problem in our society with members of our community being deprived of the basic dignity of having a place they can call home.
The school expressed its thanks to Cormac MacArt of the Westcourt Centre for facilitating the event and looks forward to engaging with homeless projects in the months ahead. Our current winter appeal for warm clothing is coming to conclusion and the school will soon deliver warm hats, scarves, gloves and other warm clothing to the Welcome Centre as part of its annual winter collection.