Art with heart: Supporting artists from Oxford’s homeless population

Nationwide, rough sleeping in England has increased by 134% between 2010 and 2015. Oxford has historically had high levels of homelessness with around 55 people counted as rough sleeping in the city at the last official count.

Oxford’s homelessness problem partly stems from housing issues: it is the most unaffordable place to live in the (even more than London!), making people vulnerable to homelessness if their tenancy comes to an end and the rent is increased. It is also very difficult for people to move out of homelessness. ‘Right to buy’ policies encourage councils to sell off existing social housing stock; the subsequent decline of social housing means that councils increasingly have to discharge their duty to help homeless households find accommodation, by finding them a tenancy in the limited and increasingly unaffordable private rented sector, meaning many are left on the waiting list. House building is at an all-time low: from 2013 to 2014, no affordable homes were built in Oxford.

These structural issues are compounded by the fact that central government cuts mean that Oxfordshire County Council has had to make some very difficult decisions about how to spend its budget. Last year, r a 65% cut in vital services that keep people in their homes and . On top of a 38% cut to the same funding in 2014, this means that there are not the funds for services supporting the homeless and those at risk of homelessness to remain open. Lucy Faithfull house (a 61-bed hostel) has already shut its doors, and Simon House and Julian Housing (together providing over 200 beds)

Nationwide, rough sleeping in England has increased by 134% between 2010 and 2015

The services are a lifeline for thousands each year. In stark terms, this will mean more vulnerable people on the streets, in prisons and in hospitals. It will also cost more than it saves: Crisis research shows that helping people when they first become homeless saves the public purse between £3,000 and £18,000 per person. Under current legislation, councils only have to help those in ‘priority need’ – mainly those who are pregnant, with dependent children, vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or physical disability. The Homelessness Reduction Bill, recently passed in Parliament, will impose a duty on councils to help more people who become homeless. In practice the cuts to local government funding will mean Oxford City Council will find it very difficult to carry out the new duties imposed on them by the Bill.

Art with Heart

Though arguably a bit windier and wetter than the galleries of the Tate Modern or National Gallery in London, the streets of Oxford are home to talented artists of their own. On any given day, one is likely to come across artists from Oxford’s homeless community selling their art along popular arteries, such as Woodstock Road and Cornmarket Street. Cognisant of the precarious housing situations in which many people in Oxford find themselves and motivated to support artists from every economic background, students at Green Templeton College (GTC) are introducing a new element to the College’s second annual GTC Art Exhibition. At the opening reception on the 1st of June, artists from the homeless community will be displaying and selling their art alongside artists from GTC, including students, family, staff, and fellows. The goal is to provide the special guest artists with a dignified and welcoming platform through which they might sell their art, as well as to shine a spotlight on the diverse artistic talents in the community.

Meet the Artists

Three artists who have or who currently are rough sleeping will be showcasing their art at the Exhibition.

Ash, who can often be found selling his work on Cornmarket, is excited to have the opportunity to sell his art at the College. His art comes in the form of colourful images drawn in marker on wood blocks. Ranging in size from 15cmx15cm to larger, A4-sized ones, Ash’s art provide a pop of colour in contrast to the grey bricks along Cornmarket. Reminiscent of the long spider-like characters from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, Ash’s quirky figures dance across backgrounds of swirls and sprays of colour.

Vikki sets up shop outside St. Cross College on St. Giles. Vikki is a poet who illuminates her works with beautiful calligraphy. With penmanship that could rival some of the finest works held in Duke Humphrey’s Library, Vikki brings a visual flair to the page that reflects the intricacies of her poems and quotes.

Henry likes displaying his art along Woodstock as opposed to having it in a shop as it enables him to meet the people who become the owners of his art

Previously occupying the bus shelter down the road from the Royal Oak on Woodstock Road, Henry now displays his art outside Brown’s Café and the Royal Oak. A frequently seen figure along this stretch of road, many people who work and live in Jericho are familiar with “Henry the Painter.” Ten years ago, Henry “decided to be creative” and picked up some brushes, oil paints, and rough canvases, to begin exploring the images of life he sees around him everyday. Inspired by the environment, nature, daily life, and different colours, Henry explores how humanity interacts with nature. His style ranges from abstract lines to landscapes of scenes from around Oxford. “People have different ideas of art and what it represents, whether that be something abstract, mechanical, anatomical, or natural,” Henry explains. He enjoys speaking with people passing by and seeing how some may find a painting disjointed while others find it marvellous. Henry likes displaying his art along Woodstock as opposed to having it in a shop as it enables him to meet the people who become the owners of his art. As generous as he is with the paint on his canvas, Henry has been known to give away paintings to cash-strapped students and others, as he sees the value in individuals becoming the sole owners of a piece of art. When asked if he has a specific goal for his art, Henry replied, “I have no goal in art; I feel satisfied by the work I make for others to enjoy.”

Everyone is welcome to attend the reception of the GTC Art Exhibition on 1st June from 7pm-10pm at Green Templeton College. Wine and jazz music will accompany a lively evening celebrating the lively art scene in Oxford.