Oxford University Student Union (OUSU) held a ‘The Big Sleepout’ this weekend, with students spending spending the night sleeping rough in New College quad.
The event was designed to increase awareness of the acute homelessness problem afflicting Oxford as well as to raise money for the charity Oxford Homeless Pathways.
The Sleepout has been organised as the culmination of Homelessness Awareness week, held by OUSU’s new ‘On Your Doorstep’ campaign, an initiative intended to provide students with information concerning how they can help end homelessness.
Students assembled in New College quad on Saturday evening and heard a talk from Oxford Homeless Pathways on the importance of the charity’s work, followed by a discussion ofthe issues surrounding homelessness.
Sandwiches and hot drinks were provided to participants, though they had to bring their own sleeping bags.
Darcey Murphy, a student from Balliol closely involved with the organisation of the night, commented, “we wanted to do a Sleepout as part of On Your Doorstep’s Homelessness Awareness Week. We’re having a discussion about what it means to be homeless and the stigma around it.”
The event cost £3 to attend, most of which will be used to fund the Hostel O’Hanlon House. The hostel accommodates two hundred people who would otherwise be homeless, fifty six of whom are rough sleepers, every night of the year.
Lesley Dewhurst, Chief Executive of the charity, explained how Oxford has a particularly acute homelessness problem due to the high cost of accommodation and lack of affordable housing.
She explained that, “the effects of the recession and welfare reform have exacerbated these problems, and cuts to local authority spending are having a serious impact on services like ours which rely on grant funding.”
Many individuals and JCRs have expressed solidarity with the aims of the initiative. Keble JCR’s Charities Officer remarked, “Homelessness is one of the most visible social problems in Oxford. The campaign is a great way of raising awareness for local initiatives and charities that we can all support.”
Some people have vioced concerns that the event reduces the problem to the singular issue of sleeping rough, rather than encompassing all issues surrounding homelessness.
A Keble second year commented, “Whilst the idea seems good as a means of raising awareness, there is a danger students will feel they can empathise with the homeless, despite their relative safety in New College, and the provision of food and drink”.
However, the organisers are quick to dispel fears that they are attempting to emulate the gravity of the problem. Darcey Murphy explained that, “we’re not trying to claim that sleeping out for one night in any way reflects what it’s like to be homeless, but we’re hoping it will encourage people to consider their conceptions of homelessness more closely.”
CherwellTV has filmed the sleepout and a broadcast will be available on our website soon.