On Monday 27th February On Your Doorstep, the OUSU homelessness campaign held a protest in Radcliffe Square to campaign for more space to be given to the homeless by Oxford University.
Fifteen people attended the event and they were able to get a photo holding the banner which they hope will help raise awareness of their cause. They organised the event to coincide with the eviction of Iffley Open House from the premises they had been resident in which belonged to Wadham College.
In a press release on Sunday 26th February, the grassroots organisation, Iffley Open House, said they were leaving the Old VW Garage on Iffley Road after two months and relocating to the abandoned Osney Mill, just off Mill Street, which they “hope to use until the winter is over to house those who were staying in Iffley.”
The space belongs to Oxford University and the group say that it has not been used for several years. They added that they “hope to stay for two months, and work with local residents to create a safe space which is just as successful as the original Iffley Open House.”
They continued: “Originally, the organisation and residents were granted access to the VW Garage until the end of April – by which point, it would warmer for residents to return to using tents and staying outside if they could not find another space to utilise as housing.”
“Unfortunately, this offer was revoked by Wadham College, who ejected the group on the basis that they needed to begin progress towards redevelopment of the building. This order to leave was accepted by Iffley Open House on the basis that Wadham College would help residents to find a new space to live in, and act as advocates for the organisation.”
Sandra Phillips, local volunteer and activist, said that in the Press Release that “Iffley Open House has been an amazing project, and I can speak for our 170 volunteers when I say it has been a pleasure to be involved for each and every one of us. Through our efforts, we have housed 20 people at any given time, seen one person re-homed, several have found jobs and one resident is going to University. The support of the community has been outstanding, and their combined voluntary efforts and donations have made an enormous difference to the life of residents.”
“Through our efforts, we have housed 20 people at any given time, seen one person re-homed, several have found jobs and one resident is going to University.”
“We are disappointed about the mismatch between the attitude of the community and the attitude of leaseholders. When we consider that Oxford has once again topped the list of the country’s most unaffordable places to live. It really is a shame to think that some local institutions are unwilling to step up and help the city’s most vulnerable during the winter months. However, we understand that we must move forwards and look forward to finding a new permanent space with the help of Wadham College.”
Iffley Open House said that they “fully intend to respect the Power Station and the surrounding community for as long as we stay here, we hope match the level of understanding and support that we’ve received at Iffley Road. Ultimately, this is about providing housing for those who need it most – and we truly believe that the residents of Oxford believe in this cause as much as we do”
Jeevan Ravindran, who organised the On Your Doorstep protest on Monday morning told the OxStu: “Iffley Open House is a microcosm of the homelessness situation. It is not a long-term solution, but is a great example of how the university needs to help the homeless more. The university needs to step up and help the homeless because it is them who has the space and unused buildings.”
Another attendee of the event, Edwin Wood, a student at University College explained why he had become involved: “I’d never seen so many homeless people on the streets before I moved to Oxford and I think the problem has got worse in the one and a half years since I’ve been here, especially with the recent council cuts.”
Jeevan added that he considered it vital that students engaged with the problem.
Since Iffley Open House’s move into University property, a spokesperson for the University, Maria Coyle has said “We are aware that yesterday afternoon 30 people moved into the old power station building owned by the University of Oxford.”
“Around 20 of them are homeless and are using it as a squat after vacating a former car showroom from which they had been given notice to quit. Ten volunteers working with the homeless are thought to have joined them.”
“The university sympathises with the plight of these homeless people who need somewhere safe to live and has been speaking with their representatives about how to resolve the situation.”
The Osney Mill property was being considered for use by the Said Business School. Once they had taken up residence in the building they communicated with police and security from the university through the letterbox.
Volunteer Tom Shirley reported that the police exchange had been ‘good’ and officers understood the group had claimed squatters’ rights.
He continued: “We have said we would like to open up a dialogue with Said Business School. We can give them a reference from Wadham about how successful the project was.”
The group have emphasised that their goal is still just to provide for the homeless until the worst of the winter is over.