Oxford Homeless Debates: trials and errors

Dutch former high school debater Caspar Jacobs moved to Oxford for studies. He has taken up working at OxHoP and started up debate workshops for the homeless who attend the centre with assistance from IDEA NL. He shares his experiences with the programme on our site.

Challenging topics

The first debating sessions I organised with OxHop’s homeless clients had as its topic the motion ‘Should legal highs be banned?’ Legal highs are hard drugs that are legal because the government needs to ban specific substances, so an existing drug can be slightly altered so that it is not illegal under existing regulations.

With about four people, the turn-out was good, but it was not possible to organise a formal debate, mainly because not everyone attended the sessions for the full hour. For that reason I decided it would be better to have a group discussion on the topic.

What surprised me was that all attendants agreed with the motion that legal highs should be banned. My prejudice was that many of the clients would use these drugs themselves and therefore be opposed to banning them. I really liked that the clients where very knowledgable about legal highs and drugs in general. I definitely learned more from them this session than they did from me.

The next week, turn-out dropped with only two attendants. We discussed if ‘we live in a real democracy’, a motion suggestion by one of the clients. Again, it was more of a discussion than a debate. The main point raised by the clients were the fact that the government is spying on its citizens. The clients were mainly opposed to the government, which is not surprising considering the lack of support they face in society.

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