We Need to Talk

Open House Oxford

When it comes to housing and homelessness, we need to talk.

Oxford has a big problem with housing and homelessness. You don’t need to read the headlines to notice that there are more people sleeping rough in Oxford than ever before. 2017’s ‘street count’, the way the national government records the number of people sleeping rough found 61 people on the streets of Oxford, in 2010 this number was 11.

But what about the homelessness you can’t see? There are currently 3,399 households on the Council’s housing waiting list, 1,701 of whom are either expecting a baby or have small children, some both. Oxford City Council has a social housing stock of 7,746 units and an additional 3,753 units are provided at social rent by housing associations. You don’t have to be an expert to spot that those figures don’t add up, there is a huge shortfall of truly-affordable housing in Oxford.

As a result, many people end up sleeping in their cars, couch surfing, engaging in risky relationships or what is known a ‘survival sex’, staying with friends or family or staying in hostile home environments that risk their safety. These are people who have been made homeless by the simple misfortune of being poor. Many of these people have jobs but even so, few can afford to rent homes on the private market.

Council social rent for a 3-bed property in Oxford per week, is £114 or £204 at ‘affordable’ rent. On the private rental market that same home is astronomically more expensive, at £332.54.  For many families relying on Local Housing Allowance (housing benefits) to pay their rent this is leaving a shortfall. The average small family living in a 2-bed in Oxford now has to find £126 p/month to cover the shortfall between their housing allowance and their rent. More widely in the private rental sector, to pay these rents the average person is now spending around 55% of their full-time earnings on rent.

Perhaps unsurprisingly considering these figures, the breakdown of a private rental agreement is the newly crowned leading cause of homelessness, affecting a mammoth 50% of cases. Only 1 in 3 millennials can now expect to own their homes and with the average house in Oxford now costing seventeen times the average income, it is mostly those with inherited wealth (overwhelmingly white and middle or upper class) that can afford to own.

These statistics paint a picture of a group of people without space and increasingly squeezed out of Oxford and as such, we are excited to announce that the next Makespace Oxford project will focus on housing and homelessness.

Opening in November 2018 at 36 Little Clarendon Street, Open House will be a public talking shop on housing and homelessness. We are transforming an empty shop front into a public living room for one year. Walking through our doors you’ll find an interactive exhibition on housing and homelessness, a radical housing library and a public living room – full of games, toys, books, arts & crafts, sofas and other people for anyone to enjoy, for free.

We believe that good solutions start with great conversations. We believe that change comes from within and that finding ideas that work for everybody means including everybody in creating them.

Luckily for us, Oxford is awash with energy and ideas on housing and homelessness. We have a raft of community projects, student campaign, indefatigable local councillors and enlightened institutions that are all working to fight homelessness. We also have a vibrant community led housing sector ready and willing to explore alternative approaches to providing housing for those with the most extreme need.

We’ll be hosting a huge range of events where we’ll welcome experts, activists, community organisers and everyone else, from Oxford and beyond, to help build collaborative and community based solutions to tackling housing and homelessness in Oxford. We’ll have talks, workshops, film showings, poetry nights, drop in advice sessions, art clubs, reading groups and a regular social space for LGBTQIA+ young people worried about their housing.

We’ll be opening Wednesday – Saturday from 10am – 5pm from Friday 23rd November and you can find us at 36 Little Clarendon Street OX1 2HU.

Please note that on Thursdays the space is only for self-identifying women and non-binary folk.

All that is missing is you. Here’s how you can get involved…

// Tell a friend about us – We are a tiny team with a big to-do list. Please pass on to anyone you think might benefit from Open House. In particular we hope to be a welcoming space to anyone who might be having a tough time at home.

// Come to our open meeting – On Thursday 8th November from 7-8pm. We’ll tell you a bit more about the project and you can tell us what you want to see in the next year.

// Run an event or activity – If you’ve got an idea that will start a conversation on housing and homelessness or encourage others to get involved, we’d love to hear it.

// Donate some stuff – There’s a whole list of what we’re after here.

// Become a volunteer – We need kind and enthusiastic people to help us run the shop and events on a daily basis. If you’d like to offer time on a semi-regular basis (a whole day or a few hours at a time) then please get in touch.

// Come and hang out – We are open to anyone and everyone, for as long as you like, for free. Come and say hi.

// Help us out financially – By the nature of what we’re doing, many of those involved in Open House are the sort of people who give a lot of their time, skills and energy for free. We’re trying not for this to be the case and so are currently fundraising for a programming and travel fund to cover people’s time for organising events, running activities and to reimburse volunteers and guests travelling to and from the shop. If you’d like to donate to this fund, please get in touch.

Our website will be up and running soon and you can also find us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or drop us an email. The best way to stay up to date is to sign up to our mailing list.

A final shout out to the fabulous folks at Monchü who’ve been helping us look good. They’re currently offering £100 free studio time for any charity looking to improve their graphics and branding. Check them out, they’re ace.