What we do to tackle homelessness

How we help rough sleepers

Beds and services for rough sleepers in Oxford used to be largely funded through £1.8 million of grants and funding allocations from Oxford City Council and £2 million of grants from Oxfordshire County Council. Due to funding cuts from central government, Oxfordshire County Council decided to reduce its funding of homelessness services and is providing £500,000 in 2019/20.

To mitigate the impact of this funding reduction, we entered into a pooled budget arrangement between all Oxfordshire councils and the NHS that will provide 79 beds for Oxford rough sleepers in 2019/20. We are directly commissioning another 89 beds, 26 beds will be available for city use in other services, and the second year of Rough Sleeper Initiative funding will contribute 25 temporary beds. This means there will be up to 219 beds available for Oxford rough sleepers in 2019/20.

We are also redeveloping the former jobcentre in Floyds Row - turning it into an assessment centre and winterlong emergency shelter for up to 60 people. This will be available to any rough sleeper from the winter of 2019/20.

At the same time, the number of people sleeping rough in Oxford is increasing.

There were 45 rough sleepers counted in Oxford on the night of the annual street count in November 2018. Although this was a decrease from the 61 people counted in 2017, street counts can only provide a partial snapshot of the extent of rough sleeping. We estimate that the number of people sleeping rough in Oxford has risen from 89 to 94 in the last year.

The number of people estimated to be sleeping rough has risen despite 39 new beds and improved outreach and assessment services funded by the temporary Rough Sleeper Initiative. 

We fund and provide a wide range of support services and accommodation for Oxford’s rough sleepers. We do not have a statutory duty to provide this funding or these services. However, we see it as our humanitarian responsibility to help.

What we do

We spend more than £143,000 a year to help provide day services for rough sleepers in Oxford. We fund Homeless Oxfordshire, The Porch day centre and The Gatehouse to provide these services.

Homeless Oxfordshire provides day services from its O’Hanlon House hostel in Luther Street from 9 am to 3:30 pm every day. O’Hanlon House provides shower and laundry facilities, and two meals a day. These are available to any verified rough sleeper, regardless of their local connection to Oxford. Users of day services can also access services provided to hostel residents, including training, education and activities as part of the Step Up project.

The Porch day centre in Magdalen Road provides day long support for homeless and vulnerably housed people six days a week. Its services include two cheap hot meals a day, shower and laundry facilities, clothing, and a range of activities including ICT training and allotment work.

The Gatehouse is at 10 Woodstock Road, and provides a drop-in café for homeless and vulnerably housed people six days a week. It also offers free internet access, a clothes store and art, literacy and computer activities groups.

The total provision of day services across the three sites is for 100.5 hours a week.

Simon House, a hostel in Oxford that helps rough sleepers with complex needs, was due to close in March 2018 as a direct result of Oxfordshire County Council’s funding cuts. However, we have provided the hostel with £200,000 of funding to keep 22 of the beds open until April 2019 to allow time for a new facility to be built at another location in the City.

We have provided £1.1m to enable A2Dominion, the leaseholder and support provider at Simon House, to build bespoke supported accommodation next to the John Allen Centre in Cowley. The new facility will provide 22 units of complex needs accommodation with staff on-site 24 hours a day, with a further 15 units of move-on accommodation for people with low support needs as they move towards independent living. Work is due to start on the new facility in the spring of 2018, subject to planning approval.

We have also provided an additional £160,000 to Response Housing and Oxford Homeless Pathways. This money will be used to double the number of beds at the Acacia housing project from five to 10 in the next two years. The Acacia project, which is based on the US Housing First model, has proved successful at resettling people whose multiple and complex needs make it difficult for them to manage in other types of supported housing.

In January 2017, we, along with Oxfordshire’s district councils, began a programme to help vulnerable single adults under the age of 35, and households, at risk of homelessness.

The programme is preventing at risk individuals from becoming homeless by identifying what services they need and what works best for them. The work is focussing on three areas:

  • Targeted prevention and outreach work: Officers from across the city and district councils actively seeking out those who may be at risk, and working with them to understand what could cause them to become homeless
  • Resilience Services: Providing a range of services, including financial and employment advice and mentoring, to encourage behavioural change
  • Homeless Champions Network: Homeless champions to work with key services, including health services and criminal justice, to assess individuals and help plan their discharge

The joint bid, led by Oxford City Council was awarded £790,000 by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in December 2016.

From January until the end of March, a group of Oxford churches open their doors to provide emergency accommodation for rough sleepers who have been verified by the outreach team (OxSPOT).

The Oxford Winter Night Shelter (OWNS) offered 10 beds each night during 2017/18 and doubled this to 20 beds a night during 2018/19.

For more information about OWNS, visit www.ownsoxford.org.uk

We fund the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP), which means that local homelessness agencies provide extra beds to rough sleepers during severe winter weather.

SWEP’s primary purpose is to provide emergency shelter during severe winter weather and it is available for any rough sleeper who wants to come inside – even if they would not normally qualify for a bed in our adult homeless pathway.

We usually activate SWEP on the first night of a period when the Met Office forecasts the temperature will fall to zero or below on three or more consecutive nights. We also open emergency beds on a discretionary basis during other severe weather conditions, such as when there is snow on the ground.

When we activate SWEP, staff in local homelessness organisations step up from their regular duties to deal with emergency conditions – this is on top of their day jobs.

So far this winter (2018/19) SWEP has been open for 18 nights. Seven of these nights were discretionary, based on low “feels like” temperatures, fluctuating forecasts above and below zero and forecast snow. We’ve provided 368 nights of emergency accommodation for 94 individuals.

We initiated the City Conversation on rough sleeping at a conference in November 2017. This brought together more than 100 organisations and individuals interested in developing a common approach to tackle the rise of street homelessness.

In 2018 we committed £150,000 over two years to support the City Conversation, and we have been working with Oxfordshire Community Foundation and other partners to set the emerging partnership’s priorities and to develop work streams to tackle these. These are:

  • to address the issue of why some people can’t or won’t engage with services that could help them
  • to provide better information about what services are already available and what people can do to help
  • to bring more funding into Oxford for services to prevent and reduce rough sleeping
  • to build the partnership around a strong city charter on rough sleeping. This will set out mutual vision and values for achieving the ambition that nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford.

The partnership is expecting to launch the rough sleeping charter and a new support-focused website in spring 2019.