Oxford City Council conducts regular night time street counts of the number of people sleeping rough in the city.
In March the council found 37 people sleeping rough in Oxford on the night – an 18 percent decrease from the 45 people counted in November.
Street counts are a snapshot of people seen bedded down or about to bed down for the night. This means they cannot give a complete picture of street homelessness but they are useful in measuring trends in the number and needs of rough sleepers over time.
The majority of rough sleepers counted were white male UK nationals aged between 36 and 49 and were sleeping in the city centre.
Approximately one fifth (seven) of rough sleepers were identified as women – a decrease on the quarter (11 women) counted in November.
Another fifth (seven) of people counted had accommodation in Oxford but chose to sleep out on the night. This compares with two rough sleepers (four percent of those counted) who had available accommodation in November, and it means that seven of the 212 beds available on the night for people experiencing homelessness were unoccupied.
There was a reduction in the number and proportion of people who had been sleeping rough for less than six months, with 14 people (38 percent) compared to 20 (44 percent) in November. Twelve people were new to rough sleeping, with two who had returned to the streets after being accommodated.
Eighteen people were long term rough sleepers who had been sleeping rough for more than six months, a slight increase on the 15 people counted in November.
Services can find it hard to engage with chronic and entrenched rough sleepers, many of whom have unmet support needs. Oxford rough sleepers averaged four separate and overlapping needs, with mental health issues and difficulty sustaining accommodation being the most common (11 and 12 individuals respectively).
While most (22) rough sleepers were UK nationals, a sixth (six) of those counted were EU nationals. Five people (14 percent) had no recourse to public funds – meaning that they cannot claim benefits or housing due to their immigration status. In November a quarter of rough sleepers counted (11 people) had no recourse to public funds.
As in November, six rough sleepers had a local connection to Oxford. Four rough sleepers (11 percent) had a known local connection elsewhere in Oxfordshire, down from seven (16 percent) in November.
Stephen Clarke, Head of Housing Services, said: “We know that street counts don’t provide a complete picture of rough sleeping but they do help us to measure trends. New Rough Sleeper Initiative-funded beds and a doubling of Churches Together in Oxford’s winter provision to 20 beds a night meant that the number of people we counted sleeping on the streets fell over the course of last winter. This is a welcome development as nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford.”
Rough Sleeper Initiative (RSI) funding comes from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). The council successfully bid for £503,000 in RSI funding in 2018/19, which meant that 39 additional beds were provided for people experiencing homelessness last winter.
These included specialist accommodation for women, two winter shelters available for people without a local connection or recourse to public funds, and ten extra sit up spaces for those whose eligibility for Oxford’s adult homeless pathway was being assessed.
On top of this, from New Year until the end of March a group of Oxford churches provided 20 beds for rough sleepers who had been verified by outreach services through the Oxford Winter Night Shelter.
The MHCLG has confirmed a further £511,000 in RSI funding for 2019/20.
The council is in the process of converting a former jobcentre into an assessment hub and emergency shelter to help people off the streets.
Once fully operational, 1 Floyds Row will provide assessment services and a range of short term accommodation for up to 60 people experiencing homelessness or at risk of rough sleeping. This will include a winterlong emergency shelter that will open for winter 2019/20 and will be available to anyone – regardless of their local connection or immigration status.
There was no street count in January. Snow and freezing weather meant the council had activated its severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP) on both the scheduled and reserve dates for the count. As emergency beds were available for all rough sleepers, the street count team carried out a welfare check and offered SWEP spaces to everyone they found instead.
More information about how the council conducts street counts is at www.oxford.gov.uk/streetcount