Only one percent of students give money on a weekly basis to people who are begging on the street, a new survey by OUSU has revealed.

The survey, part of OUSU’s On Your Doorstep campaign, asked 1192 students about their attitudes towards homeless people in Oxford.
Ninety-four per cent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that homelessness was a big problem in Oxford.

However, the survey has revealed an alarming lack of awareness about what students should do if they see someone sleeping rough; ninety-four per cent of respondents said they were unsure or didn’t know who to contact if they saw someone who was sleeping rough.

OUSU advice currently states that students should contact the charity StreetLink if they see someone sleeping rough.

Accepting that there was a problem with student awareness, OUSU’s Community and Charity rep Emily Silcock told Cherwell that the survey “seems to show that homelessness is really something that students are concerned about, but we’re often not very sure what to do about it.

“The aim of OUSU’s ‘On Your Doorstep’ campaign is to allow students to become informed and act on these issues. We aim to ensure that every student in Oxford knows who to contact if they see someone rough sleeping.

“We are planning on making this information very obvious to next year’s freshers, as well as organising awareness events and hopefully getting exposure in the student press.”

Jesus college student, Aida Alonzo, agreed with the need for more student awareness ofhow to tackle homelessness, “I think it would be good to see information on how to help the homeless made accessible to students. From talking to peers and trying to get them involved in homeless action I get the sense that in a lot of cases the enthusiasm is there but students just don’t know how they should help. I myself remain unsure!”

The findings demonstrate an overwhelming discrepancy between reality and students’ perceptions of the causes of homelessness, with thirty-six per cent of students believing drug and alcohol addiction to be the highest factor in causing someone to be on the street. In reality, relationship breakdown was the most common cause at forty-one per cent, which only ten per cent of students assumed to be the largest factor.

Meanwhile, only two per cent of respondents thought that leaving prison was the most common cause of homelessness, when in reality it is responsible for a quarter of homeless people living on Oxford’s streets.

Former coordinator of the Homeless Action Group Amy Ertan told Cherwell that she is “not too surprised by these discrepancies on the believed causes of homelessness. The fact is homelessness is usually the result of several things going wrong, often out of the control of the person in question. Factors such as poor mental health and relationship isolation are huge contributors to the insecurity that can lead to someone sleeping rough or sleeping without stable housing.”

Sixty-five per cent of students thought that at least half of all homeless people were suffering from mental health problems, yet the real figure is closer to one in four. Similarly, sixty-nine per cent of respondents thought that at least half of all homeless people had some sort of addiction problem, while statistics from the charity Homeless Link claim that under two-fifths of homeless people have drug problems.

The survey also brought up the issue of giving money to people begging on the street. Forty-five per cent of respondents “never give money to people who are begging”, while thirty-five per cent were “unsure as to whether giving money directly to people who are begging is a good thing.”

Almost all of the services in Oxford currently support the campaign ‘Your Kindness Can Kill,’ which advises against giving money, food, or anything else to people who are on the streets. Homeless charity Broadway has said that the biggest thing that students could do to help people who are rough sleeping is to stop giving money to people who are begging.

St Hugh’s student Amy Ertan told Cherwell that while ‘Your Kindness Can Kill’ has great intentions, “there needs to be more emphasis on other ways to help… for example, buying a Big Issue from a registered seller is supporting a long-term solution that helps someone stand on their own two feet.”

Meanwhile, the survey suggested that more students are volunteering for homeless charities than regularly give money to people begging. Three per cent of students are said to volunteer at least “once a week”, while sixteen per cent volunteer less than once a month.