Student group Embrace collects period products for those experiencing homelessness in Cambridge
‘By dropping in a few spare tampons, or adding an extra pack of pads to your Sainsbury’s shop, the collegiate student body could make a huge difference to homeless period poverty in Cambridge’
Embrace Cambridge has been collecting period products through their #Free2Flow campaign. This period poverty campaign was established by the student-led organisation to collect as many donations of period products as possible for Wintercomfort, a local support hub that was founded in 1991 to create opportunities all year round for homeless individuals.
Over the course of the campaign, the team have collected a total of 4,419 period products for Cambridge’s homeless population.
The Tab spoke to Caitlin Reilly, the Director of Communications on the Embrace team, about the #Free2Flow campaign and advocating against period poverty and homelessness.
An engaged and passionate group of students motivated by a shared desire to help those combat homelessness and poverty in Cambridge.
Founded in 2014, Embrace began as a group of students associated with Just Love, a Christian initiative for social justice. At the organisation’s inception, efforts focused mainly on foodbank collections and fundraisers. After the outrage of the student body in the aftermath of the 2017 scandal which saw a Cambridge student burning a £20 note in front of a man experiencing homelessness, Embrace began to raise money for local homelessness charities.
Although the initiative slowed down after many of the original student members graduated, Embrace was revived and refounded in 2020 by Laura Gilbert with the additional aim of systemic change for those experiencing homelessness.
Currently, Embrace Cambridge dedicates their student-led initiatives to tackling homelessness in Cambridge. The organisation acts as a link between local charities and University students to facilitate communication, collaboration and negotiation for the needs of those experiencing homelessness in the greater Cambridge community.
In her role as Director of Communications, Caitlin Reilly currently concentrates mainly on educating the student body about how best to help the homeless population. Recently, and thanks to the current #Free2Flow campaign, Embrace’s university-wide presence has grown its following both on social media and in person.
‘Our main aim for the campaign is to collect as many period products as possible to donate to Wintercomfort.’
The idea for the #Free2Flow campaign came after Caitlin came across “a video about homeless women in America and the realities of menstruation. Caitlin distinctly recalls the struggles these women faced while reaching their monthly menstruation cycles:
“These women recounted using rags, shoplifting sanitary products and leaving tampons in for a dangerous amount of time due to a lack of money to buy period products.”
Although Caitlin had “seen lots of period poverty activism in the news in recent years”, she had come across many campaigns specifically related to homelessness and period poverty and sought to take on this challenge with the Embrace team.
The Embrace committee has collaborated with college JCRs and SUs to ensure that students at each college can partake in the #Free2Flow campaign. The period product drop-off boxes now seen in many colleges are an “easy way for the students of Cambridge to support the local homeless population”. At the same time, Caitlin hopes the campaign can offer an opportunity to combat stigma and tackle misconceptions about experiences of homelessness.
‘Some of the things I used to consider helpful can actually be damaging’
Through speaking with Melody Brooker, Fundraising and Communications Manager for Wintercomfort, Caitlin has gained new approaches to advocating for those in poverty.
“Even giving out food can work to prevent vulnerable people from accessing support as charities often use the food they provide as a ‘hook’ to draw homeless people in and help them turn their life around,” says Caitlin.
Overall, the Embrace campaign works to increase knowledge about homelessness to prevent such misconceptions and to put an end to “a fear of people experiencing homelessness, misguided attempts to help, or simply ignorance”.
‘The presence of homeless people in a city as affluent as Cambridge is an uncomfortable thought which some people find easier to push to the back of their mind than confront.’
Moving forward, Caitlin hopes that issues such as lack of knowledge surrounding homelessness and the lack of affordable housing in Cambridge will be addressed more actively. “Cambridge house prices are extremely high, with the average house sold in Cambridge over the last year costing £535,320.”
“Homelessness is a topic often shrouded in mystery and defined by damaging stereotypes,” says Caitlin.
Caitlin isn’t shocked that high rates of homelessness follow high house prices: “Is it any wonder that tenants can’t keep up with rent payments and homeowners can’t stay on top of their mortgages?” As a result of the pandemic, mass unemployment has also pushed Cambridge community members into poverty and homelessness.
Although Cambridge city councils and other local organisations are beginning to combat the issue of homelessness with the recent building of 22 modular homes, Caitlin reminds us that more needs to be done.
Embrace’s housing task force is currently working with the Cambridge Land Trust to begin a project to “rally Cambridge colleges to allow their unused land to be repurposed as sites for modular homes.” Embrace is also looking at keeping donation boxes in colleges permanently, adapting what they’re collecting termly based on the needs of Wintercomfort.
Embrace suggests keeping up with local charities for ways to directly support community work: “Regular monetary or material donations to local charities are a great way to help — check charity websites for a list of things they might be in need of at the moment”.
To continue to contribute to Embrace’s initiatives, and stay engaged with homelessness issues, follow Embrace on Instagram (@embracecambridge) to stay updated with the latest campaigns.
Photo credit: Ciara Mayers, Safa Al-Azami