Street homelessness and rough sleeping

Why there are so many rough sleepers in Oxford

In 2017 rough sleeping in England hit record levels and the national homelessness crisis is all too evident on the streets of Oxford.

During the November 2018 street count, we counted 45 rough sleepers on the streets of Oxford. Street counts can only offer a partial picture of the extent of street homelessness and we estimated that there were 94 rough sleepers on the streets of Oxford.

The rise in street homelessness in recent years is due to factors that include welfare reform, insecure and expensive private renting, and widespread cuts to mental health and social care services due to austerity.

It is a vicious cycle because it takes more than a roof to end homelessness, and many people remain on the streets because of the lack of other support needed to engage with us and come inside.

Street homelessness has a significant impact on physical and mental health. The Office for National Statistics reports that the average age of death for a homeless person is 44 for men and 42 for women, compared with 76 and 81 in the general population.

Street homelessness is dangerous, frightening and isolating. Rough sleepers are more likely to be victims of crime and exploitation, and are 17 times more likely to be victims of violence than the general public. A quarter of female rough sleepers have been sexually assaulted while sleeping on the streets.

Entrenched rough sleepers are more likely to develop additional physical and mental health needs and substance misuse issues, and to have contact with the criminal justice system. Collectively, these issues are known as complex needs – a combination of these can make it harder for support services to engage with rough sleepers and help them to move on from the streets and rebuild their lives.

The rough sleeping crisis is an issue we take very seriously. While everybody notices how many rough sleepers there are, what they don’t see is the work that goes on that will help around 425 people off our streets in 2018/19. We are proposing to spend more than £2 million in 2019/20 to prevent and reduce rough sleeping in Oxford.