Homelessness is a long-running issue in CambridgeLucas Chebib

Several colleges have voted to undertake official fundraising efforts for a homelessness charity based in Cambridge.

The campaigns came in the week following reports that Pembroke student Ronald Coyne was filmed burning a £20 note in front of a homeless man in the early hours of Thursday 2nd February. A petition to expel Coyne from the University has since received over 23,000 signatures.

The response to the incident was immediate, with more than £4,000 raised within 24 hours for local homelessness charity Jimmy’s Night Shelter, a charity which offers accommodation and assistance to the city’s homeless and vulnerably housed residents, as well as the creation of a campaign by PhD researcher Richard Dent encouraging students to go and give £20 to the homeless.

St John’s, Queens’, Selwyn, Emmanuel, Pembroke, Peterhouse and Sidney Sussex College JCRs have all organised or are in the process of organising collections for Jimmy’s.

Elsewhere, Girton College JCR have voted to give £100 to Jimmy’s Cambridge from their charity budget, and Christ’s College are running a series of themed formals, with the profits from ticket sales going to the same charity.

Girton’s JCR president, Joshua Peters, told Varsity: “We wanted to benefit local charities, or those that deal with issues faced by our own students, and so this year, in addition to donating 50 per cent of our budget to an as yet undecided mental health charity, we felt it would be appropriate, particularly in light of recent events, to donate to Jimmy’s. With a lot of other JCRs and individual students, doing the same, it’s an opportunity to make a far larger impact as part of a wider movement within Cambridge than what could normally be achieved on our own. Donating to Jimmy’s also allows students to take an active role in turning a despicable act into something overwhelmingly positive.”

Ted Mackey, the president of Selwyn JCR, told Varsity that the student body were “outraged” by the incident: “We as a committee decided that due to the event itself and the recent press around it, notably from the tabloid press, and as Selwyn has one of the largest proportions of state school students, we wanted to show that students at Cambridge are kind, caring and conscientious – and that this incident is very much not the norm.”

Selwyn College JCR were unable to donate directly from their charity budget, as this money had already been donated to the charities Clic Sargent and Reading Matters. However, the JCR’s Male Welfare Officer, Kenneth McHardy, who attended the same school as Coyne, has set up a JustGiving page for Jimmy’s Cambridge and has encouraged members of the college to donate: “We basically want to show that Coyne’s actions don’t reflect the views of students at Selwyn and Cambridge more widely.” 

Pembroke College JPC have launched a ‘Cambridge £20 Homelessness Fundraiser,’ encouraging students to donate £20 to Jimmy’s Cambridge through another JustGiving page. In an email to undergraduate members of the college, Charities Officer Louis Slater said: “If we recognise our luck and come together, we can and will make a lasting positive impact on our society.”

He also told Varsity that Cambridge students had in the past been guilty of inaction on the issue of homelessness: “Until the fundraiser was launched, people were doing very little. Now we are starting to get good responses and we hope this continues.”

In a statement on their website reacting to the note-burning incident, Jimmy’s Cambridge said: “Here at Jimmy’s we have many volunteers, friends and supporters throughout the University and colleges and we are proud of our association, not only with the student body, faculty and staff, but to all who donate by whatever means, to allow an opportunity for individuals to come in from the streets. This incident is an isolated event and it is, perhaps, more important to focus on the fact that £20 would have provided up to 20 meals for Jimmy’s guests on any given day – tangible support for those who need it most.”

Speaking to Varsity, Jimmy’s was eager to point out the positive contribution of Cambridge students to their charity in contrast with the negative image created by the Coyne incident: “We believe at Jimmy’s that the [note-burning] incident was an isolated event that is widely reported but rare in our experience of the student body. We would rather focus on the positive community action that has happened out of it.” 

These are not the only student-led efforts to support Cambridge’s homeless community. Cambridge Streetbite is a project set up in 1999 by students concerned about the numbers of people living on the streets, and the uncertainty residents felt about the best way to help. Small groups of volunteers distribute hot drinks and sandwiches to people living on the street