“Any change please?” he whispered. I glanced and scurried along. For a few seconds I was aware of the chasm separating our two lives. My 18 years of relative peace, and his, if I had to guess, life punctuated by a combination of drug addiction, domestic violence, and nasty separations from loved ones.
The gnawing guilt as you pass homeless people can make them an unwelcome presence. Outside central London, Oxford has the UK’s highest number of homeless people. Just 15 metres separates the stand selling VitaCoco Coconut Water in Tesco Metro on Magdalen St. and the squalid square metre where this man is sat; our society is able to siphon luxurious nectar for drinking but is unable to shelter all of its citizens each night.
There is no silver bullet for this problem. A combination of action by local government, charities, and major stakeholders in the area could manage the situation. Camden, for example, has a homelessness rate much lower than the London average because of this holistic approach. People are given a bed, treatment for the issues that put them on the street, and are helped to find jobs. Oxford Council, by contrast, cut the housing support budget by 39 per cent in 2014, and considered cutting the 2016 budget by a further 65 per cent. As a result, Lesley Dewhurst, Chief Executive of Oxford Homeless Pathways, remarked recently “there is never a spare bed”.
The pressure on housing is another reason too many people sleep rough in Oxford. Our wealthy university thus has a duty to off er help. Commendably, OUSU successfully campaigned against the council’s plan which would have made the lives of those on the street even harder, whilst Just Love (a student-run Christian outreach group) meets, talks to, and buys food for the local homeless population. The university itself is less active. A suggestion: off er up the handful of bedrooms needed by the local homeless out of the several thousand that make up the campus.