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Council votes to open up council and University buildings to the homeless

Following the eviction of the Iffley Open House (IOH) group from their third squat, the city council passed a motion on Monday to make vacant buildings in Oxford available for use as temporary homeless shelters.

Liberal Democrat, Green and Labour councillors all showed support for the motion, which was passed by 30 votes to eleven.

Proposed by Green councillor David Thomas, the motion recognises the growing number of individuals sleeping rough in Oxford, as well as an increased awareness of homelessness in the city.

Councillors are also seeking to encourage landowners of vacant properties, including the University, in Oxford to make their buildings available for the homeless. There will also be a report commissioned in September, looking at how empty buildings could be used as temporary homeless shelters.

At the meeting, Councillor Rowley said: “The holy grail would be premises there for a reasonably long period of time, [for homeless people] to sleep, store possessions, and gain access to help.”

Former Lord Mayor and IOH volunteer Elise Benjamin told Cherwell:

“The motion is an encouraging step in the right direction.

“The success of Iffley Open House has shown that it is possible to provide temporary accommodation in empty buildings and that this will give the short-term support many homeless people need to get their lives back on track.”

However, she continued: “It’s sad that the petition to re-open Lucy Faithfull House (a homeless shelter) was met with a ‘do-nothing’ response from Council leaders and shocking to the homeless people who were at the Council.”

Turl Street Homeless Action volunteer and student Sam Fletcher also expressed disappointment at this decision of councillors to vote against reopening the shelter.

“No-one who simply walked around central Oxford could fail to see the absolute necessity for better provision and support for our city’s homeless,” he said.

Lucy Faithfull House was a homeless hostel with 61 beds, and provided homeless support for 30 years. It closed in January 2016, after the council withdrew its £500,000 funding.

More than 2,398 people have signed the petition calling for its re-opening.

Speaking at the meeting, Neo, a homeless man and member of Iffley Open House group said: “Reopening it would solve a massive issue and get a lot of people off the streets.

“There are a lot of people out there who want help, the people who you see on Cornmarket are just a tiny proportion of the homeless people out there.”

A housing solicitor at the meeting said that there had been a 300 per cent increase in the number of rough sleepers in Oxford, and described the motion to re-open Lucy Faithfull House as “one of construction and compassion”.

In response, councillors said that all of the beds that were available at Lucy Faithfull House have been replaced, with new, more suitable accommodation being provided.

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