As part of its funding agreement with the government’s Rough Sleeper Initiative (RSI), Oxford City Council conducts bi-monthly overnight street counts of people sleeping rough in the city.
Street counts cannot give a complete picture of everyone experiencing homelessness, but they are useful in measuring trends and the needs of people sleeping rough over time. In May the council counted and verified 48 people sleeping rough in Oxford on the night – a 30 percent increase from the 37 people counted in March.
The council believes the main reason behind this increase is the closure of 34 temporary winter beds.
Churches Together in Oxford offers 20 beds in the Oxford Winter Night Shelter (OWNS), which opens at New Year and closes at the end of March. The remaining 14 beds were in two RSI-funded winter shelters that also closed at the same time.
The majority of people counted experiencing rough sleeping were male UK nationals aged between 36 and 49 sleeping in the city centre.
Approximately one fifth (nine) of rough sleepers were identified as women, the same proportion as in March.
Only one person (two percent) had accommodation in Oxford but chose to sleep out on the night. This compares with the fifth of people experiencing homelessness (seven people) who had available accommodation in March.
There was an increase in the number and proportion of people who had been sleeping rough for less than six months, with 27 people (56 percent) compared to 14 (38 percent) in March. Twelve of these people had not been seen sleeping rough before by the outreach team, OxSPOT.
Ten people (21 percent) had returned to the streets after being accommodated, a fourfold increase on the two people (five percent) counted in March.
Twenty people (42 percent) were long term rough sleepers who had been sleeping rough for more than six months, a lower proportion than the 18 people (49 percent) counted in March.
Services can find it hard to engage with chronic and entrenched rough sleepers, many of whom have unmet support needs. Oxford rough sleepers averaged three separate and overlapping needs, with mental health and physical health issues being the most common (32 and 22 individuals respectively).
The number of UK nationals experiencing homelessness increased from 22 (59 percent) in March to 32 (67 percent) in May. The number of EU nationals sleeping rough decreased from six (16 percent) to five (10 percent) people.
Five people sleeping rough (10 percent) had a local connection to Oxford, compared to six (16 percent) in March. As in March, four people experiencing homelessness (eight percent) had a known local connection elsewhere in Oxfordshire.
Councillor Linda Smith, deputy leader and cabinet member for leisure and housing, said: “Thirty four temporary winter beds for people experiencing homelessness closed at the end of March, and in May we have more people sleeping on our streets. This should come as no surprise.
“In the last year we’ve won nearly £2 million in additional government funding to prevent and reduce rough sleeping, as we believe that nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford. We’re doing more than ever before to tackle the rough sleeping crisis, including the development of a new assessment centre and emergency shelter in Floyds Row that will open this winter.
“The extra funding is welcome, but it’s only temporary and it’s hard to plan and deliver effective services when we have to apply to limited funding pots year on year. What the May street count demonstrates is the need for sustained government funding that will provide the year round accommodation and support people need to leave the streets behind for good.”
Last month the council committed an extra £1.3 million in new funding – including more than £950,000 from the government’s Rapid Rehousing Pathway programme and Public Health England – to provide better support for people to move from the streets into sustainable housing.
The centrepiece of this transformation programme is the conversion of a former jobcentre into a new daytime support and assessment hub and shelter for up to 60 people. From October, 1 Floyds Row will initially offer a winterlong emergency shelter available to anyone experiencing homelessness, with a range of other accommodation expected to open for people going through assessment by the end of 2019.
More information about how the council conducts street counts is at www.oxford.gov.uk/streetcount