Edinburgh University launches course to help homeless

A ground-breaking course aimed at providing people with the necessary skills to help the homeless will be launched at a Scottish university next month.

Students on the course will examine effective ways of helping the homeless. Photograph: Lisa Ferguson
Students on the course will examine effective ways of helping the homeless. Photograph: Lisa Ferguson

The ten-week masters-level course in Homeless and Inclusion Health is the first of its kind in Scotland and is being run by the University of Edinburgh in collaboration with a number of local organisations.

The course which is fully funded, will see those currently working in health, housing, social care and with homeless charities study alongside university students who elect to take the programme as an option.

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A total of 40 people are enrolled on the part-time course. Of them, 23 are bursary students from outwith the university who will have their fees paid. The rest are already students at the university.

Fiona King is national campaigns and policy manager at Shelter Scotland.

The programme is designed to consider the global context of homelessness, including undocumented migrants and people experiencing homelessness while caught up in the asylum system, and to relate this to the local context.

Dr Fiona Cuthill, who is the course director and a nursing practice lecturer, said it would give workers who are often in low- paid jobs the chance to take part in fully funded professional development which will also benefit local communities.

She said: “Loads of people who work in the homeless health sector have degrees and a whole range of different things.

“But this gives them an opportunity to take time out, meet with each other and discuss ways in which they can improve the health and wellbeing of people who are homeless.

“They are all frontline workers with some policy people involved as well.”

Dr Cuthill said that a key component of the course will be ‘study circles’ that will meet for two hours every second week and consist of five or students working on a face-to-face basis.

She added: “The bursaries were filled up within a week. It’s really exciting it’s one of the best things I’ve done and it’s great to facilitate learning that really is engaging with people at the frontline.

“We are actively looking at ways in which the University of Edinburgh can engage with the needs in the community.

“We make a big difference internationally but we also want to make a big difference to the local community and this is one way in which to bring the skills that we have to do that.”

Fiona King, Shelter Scotland’s national campaigns and policy manager, said that “decades of under-investment” in social and affordable housing means there is a “drastic shortage” of housing across Scotland.

She added: “The provision of temporary accommodation is a vital part of Scotland’s housing safety net and it is intended as a brief stepping stone for homeless families and individuals from where they can start to rebuild their lives and move on to the security of permanent accommodation.

“In Edinburgh, there is an acute lack of accommodation which has led to the council fire-fighting to meet the needs of homeless people across the city.

“There is simply not enough emergency and temporary accommodation and people routinely being turned away from night shelters puts this into very sharp focus.”