Homelessness in Belfast, Ireland

On two separate occasions our group was able to learn about Homelessness through service in Northern Ireland.   We met with a representative from Homeless Aware, Paul,  and discussed the impacts of homelessness in the city.  We met on chilly evenings after 9pm and walked throughout pathways and sidewalks where various people are known to stay for the evening.

A significant impact for our group was the individual relationships that were established between Homeless Aware organization and the people that we met who were sleeping on the streets.   Our representative from Homeless Aware, Paul, had a personal relationship with each homeless individual that we came upon and sparked up a conversation quickly with them.   Aside from speaking with individuals we also offered folks warm tea, coffee, and sandwiches that we prepared earlier in the day.

As we toured through the city, our students learned the implications of “sleeping rough” or sleeping on the streets.   Paul explained to us that folks who are consistently on the streets have a high mortality rate than those individuals who are able to stay in hostels or find shelter elsewhere.

Each group of our students were able to meet a special individual, Catherine Kenny, when we walked through the city in the evenings and again when we visited the Welcome Center (a homeless shelter).   We found her to be kind, humorous, and caring.  As we walked away, Paul informed us that if Catherine wasn’t off the streets soon, she may pass away.   Unfortunately, shortly after returning back to the United States, our students learned that Catherine passed away in a doorway on March 20th.   Our deepest condolences go out to her family during this tough time.  It was truly an honor to meet Catherine before she passed away.

To learn more about Catherine, please feel free to visit BBC news for further information.

Additional coverage of homelessness and Catherine’s passing  was reported on the Belfast Telegraph.

Here’s a podcast of an interview with Catherine’s sister.

 

A small group of students and staff walking through the city with the organization, Homeless Aware.
A small group of students and staff walking through the city with the organization, Homeless Aware.
Students and Penn State staff learning about homelessness in Belfast, Ireland.
Students and Penn State staff learning about homelessness in Belfast, Ireland.
Students restocking shelves that filled with donated items from passersby. The items are available for individuals to find necessities that they need without having to go to a shelter or a service site.
Students restocking shelves that filled with donated items from passersby. The items are available for individuals to find necessities that they need without having to go to a shelter or a service site.
DSC_0615
Learning about homeless in Belfast.
A sign posted outside of an area where a person died from sleeping on the streets in Belfast, Ireland in mid-February.
A sign posted outside of an area where a person died from sleeping on the streets in Belfast, Ireland in mid-February.

 

Murals and Peace Walls

As you explore the city of Belfast, you will see an immense amount of artwork and graffiti on most walls.  Most images convey a political message ranging from getting justice for slain family members to promoting peace amongst the Protestant and Catholic communities.  It’s important to note that the murals aren’t always found on the Peace Walls but can be seen on many buildings throughout the city.

Our group had several opportunities to see many of the murals and Peace Walls throughout Belfast and inquire the purpose behind these structures.  The Peace Walls were erected several years ago during the Troubles as a means for creating a barrier between the fighting communities.  Some Peace Walls had to be extended with steel fencing to block projectiles and bombs from being thrown over.  We observed one wall that had two levels of steel as individuals found ways to throw objects higher than the current structure.

The Youth Works organization that our group was working with focuses on peace and reconciliation through their programs at their youth centers.  The leaders of this organization spent a great deal of time educating our students on the Troubles in Northern Ireland; in particular, the city of Belfast.  At the end of our trip, we were invited to a section of Peace Walls where visitors from all over the world come to scribe a message of peace on a section of the Walls.  Below you will see our Penn State students writing their messages to the Belfast community.

Learn more about the Peace Walls here!

Natalie Grubb signing a Peace Wall.
Natalie Grubb signing a Peace Wall.

 

Penn State students writing messages of peace for the Northern Ireland community on one of the many Peace Walls in the country.
Penn State students writing messages of peace for the Northern Ireland community on one of the many Peace Walls in the country.
Cystal Diem writing her message of peace.
Cystal Diem writing her message of peace.

DSC_0687

DSC_0686

 

DSC_0559

 

Students learning the history of various murals near St. Peter's Immaculata Youth Centre.
Students learning the history of various murals near St. Peter’s Immaculata Youth Centre.

DSC_0558

Penn State Berks students getting a tour of murals in Belfast, Ireland.
Penn State Berks students getting a tour of murals in Belfast, Ireland.

DSC_0674

 

DSC_0556

The rich heritage and history of Northern Ireland

We had an opportunity to explore the natural landscapes on the coast of Norther Ireland earlier this week.  Ireland has beautiful landscapes with rolling hills, scenic mountains, and breathtaking coastlines.  We walked in the giant’s footsteps at Giant’s Causeway where legend says giant, Finn McCool walked.   This area is a World Heritage site as it is rooted deeply in history and has unique rock formations (caused by volcanic activity millions of years ago).   Curious to know more about the legend and rock formations?  Feel free to explore here!

Giant's Causeway has a rich history rooted in myths about Giants in Ireland and Scotland.
Giant’s Causeway has a rich history rooted in myths about Giants in Ireland and Scotland.
Two students exploring the unique natural landscape at Giant's Causeway.
Two students exploring the unique natural landscape at Giant’s Causeway.
Unique rock formations at Giant's Causeway.
Unique rock formations at Giant’s Causeway.

The Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge was constructed by fisherman who used the structure to cross a narrow area to reach their salmon nets. Find out more here!

Walking the path on the way to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Walking the path on the way to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Students crossing the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Students crossing the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
If you look through the fog, you can see the outline of Scotland.
If you look through the fog, you can see the outline of Scotland.

Many folks may recognize the image of trees below from the popular TV series, The Game of Thrones which features many of Northern Ireland’s beautiful landscapes.  But did you know that the Dark Hedges were planted two centuries ago to impress visitors who were traveling the road towards a local mansion?  Over the recent weeks, we have learned that bad weather has impacted and uprooted several of the trees.   Our group was in awe of the natural beauty and fragility of this particular part of Ireland.  Learn more about the Dark Hedges here!

The Dark Hedges in Northern Ireland
The Dark Hedges in Northern Ireland

Politics

A central theme of this trip is learning the political realities in Northern Ireland.  The politics in Ireland are complex and a specific point of interest for the Alternative Spring Break program.  As we are learning the system here, our students and staff were pleasantly surprised to see how interested and knowledgeable the Irish are regarding American politics.   Our students engaged in a deep discussion of the Presidential debates, candidates, and the upcoming United States 2016 election.

Students discussing American politics with Steven Hughes (Youth Works).
Students discussing American politics with Steven Hughes (Youth Works).
Martin Kelly of Youth Works, discussing his viewpoints of American politics with our PS students.
Martin Kelly of Youth Works, discussing his viewpoints of American politics with our PS students.

Working with the Homeless

On March 9, 2016, our group worked at Holy Family Youth Center to construct sandwiches to be handed out to the homeless community.

4 Penn State students and 1  staff member accompanied Youth Works into the City Center to provide toiletries, sleeping bags, and food to the local homeless in Belfast, Ireland.

Homeless 2
The group created an assembly line to quickly complete as many sandwiches as they could between class sessions.

Students cheerfully crowd around a table to make sandwiches for the homeless.

Students cheerfully crowd around a table to make sandwiches for the homeless.

The beginning of the assembly line.
The beginning of the assembly line.
Students work at Holy Family Youth Center to pack lunches for the homeless community in Belfast, Ireland.
Students work at Holy Family Youth Center to pack lunches for the homeless community in Belfast, Ireland.
Skip to toolbar