SQUATTERS who have set up shelter in a disused garage have pleaded with the owners to let them stay until the end of the winter.

Around 36 homeless people have set up camp at the former VW garage in Iffley Road, Oxford, after first entering the derelict building on New Year’s Eve.

Students and residents have set up a group - Iffley Open House - supporting the call on owners Wadham College to allow the makeshift shelter to stay, erecting a banner on the building this morning demanding action.

Member and violin teacher Miranda Shaw, 29, said: “It is a huge issue. Homelessness has exploded in the last five years.

“People have been dying on the streets and freezing to death and recently a lot of people have been more and more concerned about that. We want to make sure it doesn’t happen in our area.

“I have been speaking to residents and they are in support of it.”

The call comes two months after warnings of a homelessness ‘epidemic’ following the decision to axe two homeless shelters in November and a surge in people sleeping rough across the city.

Homelessness in Oxford has increased by 50 per cent in just one year according to recent figures and Oxford City Council revealed recently that 39 people were sleeping on the streets and that the city’s shelters were at breaking point.

A petition launched calling on Wadham College to intervene and pledge its support has been signed by more than 270 people with support continuing to grow.

  • A You Caring page has been launched called Fund Iffley Open House To Provide Secure Shelter and can be visited here.
  • Meanwhile, a separate fundraising campaign set up by the Oxford Mail and charity Oxford Homeless Pathways has raised £1,564. To donate visit here.

One homeless man who has been living on the streets for almost a year and found shelter at the Iffley Road garage said that it was a refuge and a place of safety for people like him.

Henry McGrach, 60, a former painter, said: “It is a very safe place, it is quite comfortable for me.

“It is already so difficult sleeping rough and here for once you can get a good night’s sleep and some sort of normality.

“It would be fantastic thing indeed if it opened for three months. It would show there are still good people out there in our local community.”

Wadham College bought the former Ridgeway VW garage and showroom in May 2015 before pledging to site student accommodation in its place.

In September 2016 plans for the 135-bed development at the newly re-named Dorothy Wadham building were unveiled at a public exhibition.

Wadham College spokeswoman Julia Banfield said in a statement: “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.

“The college will be making every effort to speak to representatives of this homeless group as well as residents, safety experts and the site developers.”