OUSU considers challenging City Council

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It risks treating rough sleepers as an inconvenience.

Homelessness campaign group On Your Doorstep have proposed that OUSU challenge the Oxford City Council over plans to ban rough sleeping in the city centre.

Under new laws, the City Council have proposed a Public Spaces Protection Order be introduced in the city of Oxford, banning actions including rough sleeping and pigeon feeding. On Your Doorstep, the OUSU homelessness campaign, have been running a petition against these plans since March,which currently has over 70,000 signatures.

The proposition to OUSU Council was made by students Emily Silcock and Freya Turner, and advocates mandating “the OUSU Executive to sign an open letter…expressing our concerns over the proposals” which will be presented to the City Council’s Scrutiny Committee on 5th May.

Silcock, who previously chaired On Your Doorstep, said:  “We believe that the proposed PSPO is an unacceptable cover-up of the huge housing and homelessness crisis that Oxford faces.We are therefore calling on Oxford City Council to remove rough sleeping from the list of behaviours which they seek to ban.”

The proposition to OUSU Council further states: “That treating rough sleepers as a problem, threat or inconvenience to tourists and residents in the city, rather than as individual human beings with rights, is unacceptable.”

In a statement made on 9th April, Oxford City Council defended their position, claiming that they have “an excellent track record of supporting homeless people and helping them find a bed or a home” as well as noting that “the proposed City centre PSPO is aimed at tackling persistent types of anti-social behaviour which can spoil the experience of using the city centre for residents, businesses and visitors” and drawing attention to the Council’s work with “a multi-agency team and St Mungo’s.”

However, not all have been convinced by the Council’s assurances. Silcock continued by stating that it would be, “highly likely that imposing a fine of £100 on rough sleepers will make their situation worse rather than better. Criminalising rough sleeping will only increase (already high) levels of stigma surrounding Oxford’s homeless population. It risks treating rough sleepers as a problem to be dealt with, as an inconvenience, as a threat, rather than as individual human beings. Furthermore, having a criminal record would further hinder a rough sleeper from finding paths out of homelessness, as it will hinder them from obtaining a job, opening a bank account, etc.”

Despite the evidence of opposition to this motion, the City Council have also stated that: “The consultation process has been widely supported and before any decision is taken, the Council will be looking closely at what residents, businesses and visitors have said…

“We remain comitted to helping the homeless get off the streets.”

Oxford City Council ran a public consultation on the PSPO’s major issues over the period of the Easter vacation.

If the original propsals are carried through, then the area affected will encompass almost all of the city of Oxford, stretching from Christ Church Meadows to beyond Uni Parks in the far end of the city. This area will also include almost every Oxford college and PPH.

During the initial proposal stages of Oxford City Council’s PSPO, the presence of On Your Doorstep’s petition attracted attention from the BBC, The Big Issue and local newspapers including The Oxford Times.

The decision concerning OYD’s proposal will be taken at the OUSU Council Meeting on Wednesday. evening.

PHOTO: Steven Lilley

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