On New Year’s Eve 2016, a group of housing and homelessness campaigners including local Greens occupied an empty car showroom in Oxford and turned it into a temporary homeless shelter. Unusually, the squatters secured a lease to occupy and stayed for two months, with some homeless residents finding jobs and homes, and one applying for university. Green councillors visited and actively supported the squat, and Jonathan Bartley spent time playing pool with homeless residents (on a donated pool table). In February, homeless residents and supporters also backed up a Green city councillor budget amendment to reopen a homeless hostel. The amendment was voted down by Labour and Lib Dem councillors, but the squatters organised a petition to support the Green amendment, presenting it at the annual budget meeting. Under the council constitution, the budget amendment petition has to be discussed at the next council meeting in April.
In other news, Greens recently scored a major victory in Oxford, protecting the rights of people to live on boats. Following a campaign by Green city councillors in 2015, Oxford City Council watered down its City Centre Public Space Protection Order (PSPO). Despite strong public opposition, the Labour council then proposed a Waterways PSPO. With housing costs making Oxford the least affordable place in the UK to live, many residents live on boats. The PSPO, which sought to criminalise the activities of boaters, and others using Oxford’s Waterways, was opposed at the outset by the Greens, with Green Councillor David Thomas taking a lead, working with representative groups and comedian campaigner Mark Thomas to try ensure the draft order never made it into law. Council officers are now recommending that the ruling Labour administration drop its plans. This is a major success for the Greens, who have claimed from the outset that the PSPO is disproportionate, unwieldy, discriminatory and unnecessary.