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Archive - Wednesday, 15 February 2012
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Rough sleeping bags a way out of debt
THE “impossible” task of finding somewhere affordable to live has led to this piano tuner sleeping in a string of unlikely places across Oxford.
Richard Roberts on the metal walkway at Oxford’s Osney Lock where he spent the night
Richard Roberts, 29, has been sleeping outside for the past year to avoid paying what he calls over-the-odds rent.
He says it has helped him pay off his £16,000 student debts and save for his future as he works up to 30 hours a week as a piano tuner.
“I paid rent for about six years but I just didn’t have enough money,” he said.
“I haven’t been able to find affordable housing in Oxford.
“The price of housing needs to come down. It’s impossible for young people to find somewhere affordable to live and so many of them are stuck in a rut.”
Mr Roberts, who studied physiology at University College London, has slept in porches, in Port Meadow, on the roof of a garage and most recently on the moorings of Osney Lock.
He says he could afford to pay rent if he wanted to but would then be unable to save to get on the property ladder.
And over the past year – since he started sleeping outside – he has come to enjoy his lifestyle.
He said: “Now that I’m homeless, life is so much better. All of Great Britain is my real home. It’s an amazing and beautiful home that no one can take away from me.”
So he sleeps outdoors, shielding himself from the cold with up to four layers as well as a foam mat to insulate him from the ground.
He has not even been put off by recent overnight temperatures plunging to -7C.
During the summer he washes by jumping into a river, but during the winter he showers in sports centre changing rooms.
He has been able to pay off his debts of £16,000 and has no plans to stop sleeping rough in the immediate future.
Mr Roberts says his choice of lifestyle hasn’t been putting off his customers.
He said: “Most of my customers are amused by it, and nobody has turned me away.”
Some of them even let him air his sleeping bag out in their house, he added.
He told his parents about where he sleeps and it met with mixed reactions.
He said: “My father is quite amused and thinks I’m going through a stage, but my mum is quite worried.”
Despite sleeping rough, Mr Roberts does not use the city’s homeless hostels.
He said: “I feel it would be very selfish to ask charities and the government for help because I’m a healthy young man and I can work.”
Mr Roberts, originally from Portsmouth, charges £50 an hour for his services as a piano tuner and writes a blog called The Touring Piano Tuner about his life using the tablet computer he takes around with him.
He has posted a string of pictures showing the places he has slept.
Oxford City Council’s cabinet member for housing needs Joe McManners felt Mr Roberts’ situation was a symptom of the city’s housing crisis.
He said: “There is a massive affordability problem in Oxford but we don’t have enough houses full stop.
“The supply line has dried up recently and it’s important to get it flowing again.”
He added plans for a new development of up to 1,200 homes at Barton West would help ease housing pressure in the city.
PLACES HE HAS SLEPT
1 THE porch of a sports pavilion in Bury Knowle Park in Headington.
Mr Roberts described it as: “A west-facing shelter from cold easterly winds but some dogs might come and have a sniff in the morning.”
2 On the roof of a shed at the top of the South Parks.
He said: “It’s high up so nobody will disturb you, not even dogs.”
2 Behind the Westminster Sports Centre on Harcourt Hill.
Mr Roberts said: “There are only sporty students up there, and no dogs.”
4 Port Meadow.
He said: “You might need a tent in foul weather, but it’s worth it for the spectacular scenery. Just watch you don’t get trampled by cattle and horses in the night!”