LONDON Jan 11: A group of homeless people have been squatting in a vacant building at UK's prestigious Oxford University and want to be allowed to stay on over the winter months.
The group calling itself "Iffley Open House" entered the building belonging to Wadham College at the university on New Year's eve and launched an online petition titled "Tell Wadham College to do the right thing for homeless people this winter".
"The situation for rough sleepers and homeless people in Oxford is now at a critical point. Latest figures show rough sleeping in Oxford has more than trebled in the last five years," the group said in an open letter.
"Simultaneously, Oxford University and colleges like Wadham own dozens of buildings across the city which lie empty, some of which have been empty for almost a decade, that could be re-purposed as shelters, social housing and social spaces," it added.
The college, which had acquired the old garage space in 2015 to convert it into student accommodation, has indicated that it is considering the request but expressed security concerns.
"Wadham is investigating the ramifications of this move, with particular concern for the safety of those who are sleeping rough in an old and dilapidated building, including in areas that are not designed for residential use," a Wadham College spokesperson said.
"The college will be making every effort to speak to representatives of this homeless group as well as local residents, safety experts and the site developers," she added.
The college is awaiting planning permission for the redevelopment of the site. It said it was "particularly concerned" about the problems of homelessness in Oxfordshire and had regularly raised funds for homeless organisations.
The students of the college are backing the homeless group's petition, which has attracted over 2,000 signatures, and a motion in support of the move is expected at a Student's Union meeting later this week.
Around 36 people are believed to have been sleeping in the space, which includes a kitchen and showering facility. - PTI