ABOUT 150 people have signed an open letter calling on Oxford University and its colleges to make student and staff accommodation available for use by rough sleepers and by anyone made homeless because of coronavirus.

Signatories include university staff, students and alumni, as well as concerned members of the wider Oxford community.

Oxford City Council said earlier this month it has already secured over 100 rooms after the Government declared it “imperative that rough sleepers and other vulnerable homeless are supported into appropriate accommodation.”

University College and Pembroke College as well as the Said Business School have helped the council by providing accommodation and catering services.

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Other colleges, like Green Templeton, are also looking into providing rooms.

The open letter stresses, however, that it is important to ensure that future needs are met. The letter notes that a growing number of people “are being pushed out of insecure tenancies and have no safe place to stay, putting their wellbeing and the community at risk.”

It then states that, given “their stock of currently unoccupied housing”, the university and colleges are in a “unique position to be of service” and should “do everything in their power to help.”

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Sneha Krishnan, a member of Brasenose College and a signatory of the letter, said: “People who never expected to lose their housing are already ending up on the streets because of this crisis. It’s especially tough for lodgers, anyone who lives with their landlord, because they are not covered by the government’s three-month ban on evictions.”

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Michaela Collord, who helped to draft the open letter, added: “A group of us started by emailing our colleges, asking if they could liaise with the council to offer accommodation. We fully appreciate that colleges are under a lot of pressure at the minute, and we did have some compassionate replies.

"But collectively, we need a greater sense of urgency and commitment to follow-up, which is why we wrote this letter. We’re in pretty unchartered territory, and we have to get used to taking action many never expected they would.”

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This call for community support comes amidst a flourishing of mutual aid efforts, which are being led by groups like Oxford Together, Oxford Mutual Aid, Oxford Tenants’ Union and Acorn Oxford, a community and housing union, among others. All of these organisations are encouraging anyone in need, or anyone interested in volunteering, to get in touch.

The letter said: “Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, staying at home is now a public health imperative.

“Oxford was already an epicentre of the housing crisis. Now, even more people are being pushed out of insecure tenancies and have no safe place to stay, putting their wellbeing and the community at risk.

“The University of Oxford and its colleges, with their stock of currently unoccupied housing for staff and students, are in a unique position to be of service at this time.

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“As staff, students and alumni, as well as concerned members of the wider Oxford community, we call on the university and colleges to do everything in their power to help.”

It added: “The city council has already housed over 100 of Oxford’s homeless, including with the help of University College and the Said Business School, as well as the provision of meals by Pembroke College.

“More self-contained rooms are needed, though, and we urge other colleges to get in touch with the council and offer whatever housing facilities they can.”

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The letter concluded: “We must learn from Covid-19. We must demand of our national government safe and secure housing for all.”

The city council is spending millions of pounds each year on tackling rough sleeping.

Earlier this year it opened a new £1.9m homeless shelter in Floyds Row off St Aldate's.