Several Oxford colleges have made rooms available for homeless people and health workers to combat the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.
University College and Pembroke College are part of a council-run scheme which has given 121 rooms to vulnerable people. University College has made twelve rooms in its Banbury Road annexe available to rough sleepers. The annexe will be run by St Mungo’s, a homeless charity, and is available free of charge. The College has offered a further six rooms to people displaying symptoms of coronavirus.
In addition to providing accommodation, Pembroke is contributing to the Council’s food delivery scheme which provides 100 homeless people with three meals a day. Drivers deliver two hot meals and a cold breakfast to people housed in temporary shelters in Oxford. “Everyone in college is immensely proud of our catering team who are once again putting in extra effort to show the meaning of being a caring community,” says Dame Lynne Brindley, the College’s master.
The Saïd Business School, the YHA, and commercial hotels are also part of the scheme which the Council initiated after government advice said it was “imperative that rough sleepers and other vulnerable homeless are supported into appropriate accommodation.”
“Our housing team and partners old and new have worked incredibly hard to protect homeless people from coronavirus”, said Councillor Linda Smith. “We’re exploring options to provide a wider range of accommodation that will help ensure nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford during these unprecedented times.”
The Dean of the Saïd Business School said the School was “glad to offer support to our wider community at this time of crisis. Once the emergency is over, we look forward to opening our doors to our students and colleagues once again.”
Other colleges are facing pressure to make unoccupied rooms available. 149 people have signed an open letter calling on more colleges to offer “whatever housing facilities they can”. The letter says: “The University of Oxford and its Colleges, with their stock of currently unoccupied housing for staff and students, are in a unique position to be of service at this time.
“More self-contained rooms are needed, though, and we urge other colleges to get in touch with the Council. We must—as a community—find ways to cope with the present need, supporting the most vulnerable amongst us.”
Several colleges have also offered accommodation to NHS workers who need to self-isolate. Wadham has offered 30 rooms in its Merifield site in Summertown. A spokesperson told Cherwell: “We have organised contract cleaners and a laundry service and a team of Wadham students and staff have volunteered to welcome and guide newcomers to their rooms while maintaining social distancing.
“We are waiting to hear from NHS representatives if and when the accommodation will be required.” The college has also donated surplus gloves and aprons to the NHS to help deal with shortages.
St Anne’s and Exeter have confirmed that their accommodation is available to NHS workers. St Anne’s has offered rooms in north Oxford, whilst lodge manager Peter Burden used the College van to deliver 40,000 items of personal protective equipment to local health services.
A St Anne’s spokesperson told Cherwell: “As an outward looking and collaborative College we are keen to play our part supporting the City of Oxford, particularly key workers, at this challenging and uncertain time.”