Homeless residents subject to misnomer and investigation

College News News

A senior member of staff at Queen’s has caused controversy after she described homeless people as “down and outs” in an email.

Dr Linda Irving-Bell, the College’s Home Bursar, wrote to current undergraduates last week asking students to contribute to a police investigation into people who live in the field near the college’s Florey accommodation building on St Clement’s. 

She described them as “the down and outs along the pavement and in the meadow, where they also light fires”. 

Professor Jane Mellor, the College’s Dean, subsequently sent another email to students, in which she said: “Some of you have expressed reservations about acting on the email sent to you by the Home Bursar regarding anti-social behaviour on the meadow close to Florey and the impact on Florey residents.

“While the choice of words used by the Home Bursar might have been inappropriate, homelessness and its associated problems is nonetheless a sad reality of life in Oxford.

“The only way these individuals come to the attention of those who might be able to help them is via authorities such as the police.”

Dr Irving-Bell had forwarded students an email from Neil Applegarth, part of the East Oxford Neighbourhood Team.

In his email, PC Applegarth requested that the students note down “what happens; when; how often; how long it has been going on; why it is undesirable and/or unpleasant; what impact it has on daily life,  along with anything else you residents feel is relevant.”

In reply to this, the Home Bursar said: “The Dean and Provost are also keen that we play our part in resolving this.”

In her later email, the Dean reaffirmed the call to report the homeless residents of Florey, stating: “I hope you will help both the individuals on the meadow and the residents of Florey as requested.”

Neither the Dean nor the Home Bursar were available for comment.

Laurie Churchman, a first-year student at the College, said: I don’t think the Dean’s response, or that of Linda Iriving-Bell (the Home Bursar) is adequate, and I’m still not clear about what’s going to happen.

In a response to a question “Why is it undesirable and/or unpleasant?”, Churchman told the Home Bursar that 

“I find seeing these people behave as they do unpleasant because it makes me feel guilty. I think that this feeling of guilt can help to explain why some (but certainly not all) people find their presence unpalatable,” he wrote.

“I’m not quite sure what you propose to do (and it would be helpful to know before we are urged to write emails which could become ‘formal statements’), but criminalising these people or expelling them from the meadow is perhaps the least compassionate and constructive way to proceed.

“I strongly suggest that instead of showing hostility towards them, we adopt a less antisocial approach. This has to begin with the kind of language used. I find the wording of these emails deeply distasteful. It is not acceptable to create a rift between high-achieving Oxford students, from whom it is assumed 76 potential ‘witness statements’ will be collected, and ‘down and outs’,” he added.

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