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Osney Open House residents relocate to East Oxford church

Derek Harper

A few hours ago, a church in East Oxford offered temporary accommodation to the 21 residents of the Osney Open House. The squatters were asked to leave the premises of the Old Power Station in Osney by 4pm today, after an interim possession order was granted to Oxford University by a local court last week

The University successfully claimed its possession rights over the property, on the basis that the Saïd Business School has plans for the renovation and redevelopment of the power station. The School says it intends to provide “high-quality facilities for leadership development programmes for senior professionals from business, government and other organisations” on the site

After the property was occupied, the School released a statement, affirming that “the project is still a major strategic priority, and we are working hard to identify donors who will support us in creating a centre of executive learning, whilst retaining the character of the building and making sure that its refurbishment is as sympathetic as possible to the local environment.”

“It’s ridiculous that people are still on the streets in one of the richest cities in the world with so many empty buildings”

The University stance has been subject to some criticism by local activists and communities. Miranda Shaw, a local resident, says: “it’s ridiculous that people are still on the streets in one of the richest cities in the world with so many empty buildings.  The university owns so much of the city centre. We are facing a social emergency and this is now the second time that Oxford University has closed its doors. We hope that this will change in the future.”

Shaw was referring to the eviction of another 21 homeless people from the VW garage in Iffley road two weeks ago: Wadham College sought to repossess the area in order to build 135 new student flats.

Over the past few months, more than 200 volunteers have been supporting the squatters’ rights to decent housing and living conditions. Meals and washing facilities have been provided, along with support to find employment opportunities.

Nonetheless, it seems that the Open House experience is over, at least for the moment. An anonymous spokesman for the activists’ group claimed that “this is the official end of the Open House project but we are continuing our support with the residents through casework, trying to help them get jobs and getting their paperwork in place”. He also added that the organisation “managed to squirrel away lots of residents’ items among volunteers’ houses and garages”.

What doesn’t seem to be over is the homelessness crisis in Oxford. The Oxford City Council acknowledges the issue in a recent press release, and claims that “the Council maintains commitment to homelessness prevention with £1.7 million budget approval”. This is £323.400 more with respect to last year, thanks to a pooled budget contribution taken from the 2016/2017 funds. Though it is not clear whether this is going to be enough to resolve situations such as the Iffley Open House, it seems to be a first answer to activists’ demands for a higher involvement of the Council and of Oxford University in order to give homeless people “time to work, to save, to get their lives together”, as Neil, a resident of the group, puts it.

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