UCC Express Staff Writer Sarah McInerney slept rough with the UCC Sinn Féin Society as part of SF Republican Youth’s ‘National Sleep-Out’.
On Thursday the 20th of October UCC Sinn Fein (Martin Hurson Cumann) took part in a National Sleep out with NUIG’s Sinn Fein Darcy/Mellows Cumann to highlight the student accommodation crisis, and to raise money for Cork Penny Dinners. It’s no secret that the availability of student accommodation in Cork is already inadequate, yet the demand for it has been on the rise. Due to the scarcity of accommodation the cost of rent in Cork city is also rising, and for these reasons many students either can’t get accommodation or can’t afford it. This, in turn, leads to students living in less than desirable conditions, or commuting ridiculous & expensive journeys. Sadly, this isn’t just the reality for students, as Ireland’s housing remains inadequate to support its population or house its homeless. Despite this the Government proposed plans in the Budget for 2017 for housing weren’t sufficient. So Sinn Fein Republican Youth took the initiative to have a National Sleepout to raise awareness for an issue the Government continues to ignore.
This meant the group of students sleeping out (including myself) assembled outside the Boole Gates on College Road at 10pm on Thursday the 20th to spend the night outdoors. We had makeshift beds of cardboard and sleeping bags (more than some people have on the streets) and the response we received from UCC and CIT students, as well as general passers-by, was overwhelming, to say the least. Donnchadh O’Laoghaire, TD for Cork South-Central, came straight down from work in Leinster house to show his support, as well as Cork City & County Councillors, Mick Nugent and Kenneth Collins, who made sure we were well equipped for the night ahead.
As for students, all night long as they passed they gave what little money they had to give to a collection we were doing for Cork Penny Dinners as we slept outside. Students often get a bad rap by the media, however it must be said that they passed us all night long and had only positive words of encouragement and donations for Penny Dinners. Some students had heart breaking stories, one girl had to commute from Limerick daily because there was no accommodation available by the time she was offered her place in August; another boy told us how he was currently sleeping on his friend’s couch (six weeks into term) because he couldn’t afford his rent when his landlord increased it. Sadly, these are the realities for many students in Cork, as well as the homeless, for whom centres in the city aren’t large enough to facilitate. A few passers-by even randomly joined us for the night, it was very touching.
For my own part, it was both a humbling and touching experience; humbling, in that when I slept out I was well wrapped up, with a full belly and the knowledge that the following night I’d be back in my warm bed. Sadly, many people in Cork and further afield don’t have this comfort. It was touching in that I could really appreciate the generosity of people donating money they didn’t have to give.
UCC Sinn Féin Chairperson Kate Kelly described why she wanted to take part in the sleep out: “personally I wanted to focus on the accommodation issue because of the trouble I and many of my friends had this summer finding a place to live.” Vice Chair Anthony Healy described his experience: “the feeling of the cold coming through all the layers you have on and not being able to warm up no matter what you do.”
After the sleep-out Aoibhin McArdle, a first year student, collected the sleeping bags to donate to Cork Simon, a fantastic initiative. Combined with a quiz UCC Sinn Féin had hosted the Wednesday before, €520 was raised for Penny Dinners. “Thanks to all who took part and to all who donated!” added Chairperson Kelly, “hopefully the Government will take action soon as the crisis has gone on long enough when even one person doesn’t have a ‘safe place to sleep’.”