Oxford City Council intends to increase its spending on supporting rough sleepers and single homeless people to more than £2 million in the coming financial year.
Continued high numbers of people sleeping rough, changes to funding for housing related support services in Oxfordshire and plans to provide winter emergency accommodation available to everyone experiencing homelessness mean that the council says it needs £2,081,197 in the year ahead.
The council is proposing to spend £1.75 million on preventing street homelessness in 2019/20. This will allow it to increase the number of beds provided for rough sleepers to an estimated 219.
On top of this, the council is proposing a one-off spend of nearly £340,000 on the former jobcentre in Floyds Row – turning it into a winterlong emergency shelter for up to 60 people. This will be available to anyone experiencing homelessness.
There were 45 rough sleepers counted in Oxford on the night of the annual street count in November. 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. The council estimates 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 government’s temporary Rough Sleeper Initiative (RSI). RSI funding means that 212 beds were available for rough sleepers in Oxford during the winter.
Seventy nine beds will be funded through a pooled budget arrangement between all Oxfordshire councils and the NHS that was put in place in 2017 to mitigate the impact of Oxfordshire County Council funding reductions for housing related support. The council is directly commissioning another 89 beds, 26 beds will be available for city use in other services, and the second year of RSI funding will contribute 25 temporary beds.
The council’s budget proposals will fund OxSPOT, the outreach service commissioned from St Mungo’s that is on course to help around 425 people off the streets in 2018/19.
They will also fund day services and employment-related support to people experiencing homelessness, and contribute to wider homelessness prevention work through supporting victims of domestic abuse and part funding the council’s welfare reform team.
During prolonged spells of freezing winter weather, the council will also make additional emergency beds available when it activates its severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP). However, the council expects that the development of Floyds Row as a winterlong shelter available to all should largely remove the need for SWEP provision.
Outside of these budget proposals, the council will continue to fund the development of a citywide partnership with the aim of ensuring that nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford.
In 2018 the council committed £150,000 over two years to support the City Conversation on rough sleeping, and it has been working with Oxfordshire Community Foundation and other partners to set the emerging partnership’s priorities and to develop work streams to tackle these. The partnership will launch a rough sleeping charter and a new support-focused website in the next few months.
The council is also looking for additional external funding to make Floyds Row a holistic assessment centre, to give better personal support to people as they move from the streets to settled housing, and to provide a wider range of sustainable social and private rented housing options for people as they leave homelessness behind.
Councillor Linda Smith, Deputy Leader of Oxford City Council and Board Member for Leisure and Housing, said: “We take rough sleeping very seriously, and our budget proposals demonstrate our ambition that nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford – even as we continue to face a national homelessness crisis caused by austerity, welfare reform and not enough secure, affordable housing. We aim to provide up to 219 beds and – for the first time – to deliver winterlong emergency accommodation that will be available to any rough sleeper.
“It takes more than a roof to end homelessness, and over the next few years we’re aiming to transform the way services are delivered in Oxford. We want to provide better support for people as they move off the streets and a wider range of sustainable housing options so they can leave homelessness behind for good. Opening Floyds Row is the first step, and we will need to secure substantial external funding to make our plans a reality. Our rough sleeping crisis wasn’t born in Oxford, but with the help of government and our partners we can make sure it ends here.”
The City Executive Board will consider the council’s plans this Wednesday, 13 March.