A new approach to tackling rough sleeping and homelessness

Published: Monday, 7th October 2019

Oxford City Council is proposing a new approach to tackling rough sleeping this winter. This will provide benefits across Oxfordshire, helping to connect people to the right services to get them back on their feet.

Last Thursday (3 October) cabinet members agreed plans that will mean improved assessment and a range of new accommodation and services aimed at getting people off the streets and into sustainable housing more quickly.

This will include providing winterlong emergency shelter available to anyone sleeping rough – whether or not they have a local connection or recourse to public funds. The emergency shelter will open by early November.

Full council will consider the cabinet’s recommendations today (Monday 7 October).

Councils and health partners across Oxfordshire have committed to working collaboratively to develop a countywide strategy to ensure an effective whole system approach focused on prevention, early intervention and moving people on from rough sleeping. The council’s plans are part of this transformational approach.

The centrepiece of the transformational plan is the conversion of 1 Floyds Row into a new assessment centre and shelter for people sleeping rough or at risk of homelessness. The new facility will include a range of accommodation, a treatment room and intensive support to help people move on from a life on the streets.

The council’s new approach will begin with the first conversation with someone experiencing homelessness. The first conversation is often the most challenging and the most important to get right in getting people off the streets for good. Access to shelter and support in Oxford is currently through the St Mungo’s outreach team (OxSPOT) and initial conversations with people sleeping rough take place on the streets.

Now they will take place indoors in a warm, calm and safe space co-designed by people experiencing homelessness that will be open round the clock all year round. Expert assessment workers will help people to develop personal housing plans and get the support they need from other services to move on into sustainable accommodation.

It can be difficult to engage with long term rough sleepers and those who repeatedly return to the streets because of complex needs that include unmet mental health needs and drug or alcohol misuse. Assessment at Floyds Row will include access to onsite drug, alcohol and medical services.

St Mungo’s will run the new service, and its recent experience of delivering similar “right first time” services in London and the south of England has seen four fifths of people leaving the streets behind for good.

Floyds Row will provide 20 spaces for newly homeless people to stay for a week while they go through their assessment, have an agreed housing offer and move on to this. There will be another 20 “staging post” spaces for people who have been assessed but need more time to move on to other accommodation.

Floyds Row will also provide up to 16 beds of winterlong emergency accommodation that will be available to anyone until the end of March whatever the weather.

To meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness Floyds Row will be dog-friendly and will include separate accommodation for women.

The latest plans for Floyd’s Row involve an increase in investment by the council to ensure a high quality and safe environment. Building work needed to achieve this includes energy efficiency and fire safety works, disabled access, extra toilets and showers and the replacement of ventilation, heating, lighting and electrical systems.  

The planned services have been developed after consultation with people experiencing homelessness and service providers and from the experience of St Mungo’s in running this type of service in London and the south of England.

This will see increased investment from the council, which is seeking further funding from government and partners to support the project. The council successfully bid for £727,000 in government funding to deliver the new assessment hub and shelter and support services in the first year. 

Government has recently announced further funding for homelessness and rough sleeping. The council is in discussion with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) over funding for future years. 

To begin transforming services this month the council is putting interim arrangements in place while the conversion of Floyds Row is completed. The building will open in stages.

From 21 October the new assessment service and 12 beds will open at Simon House, with the winterlong emergency shelter also opening there a few weeks later. These are expected to transfer to Floyds Row around New Year along with services currently provided at the multi-agency hub in Bonn Square. Floyds Row will be fully operational when the staging post accommodation opens next spring.  

Floyds Row is one of the first homelessness facilities of its kind outside London. It’s a big and complex project and it’s at the heart of our plans to transform homelessness services in Oxfordshire.

The best way to help someone sleeping rough is to get them to come inside and find the support they need to leave homelessness behind. That means getting things right from the first conversation, as this has a massive impact in helping people off the streets.

At Floyds Row that first conversation will take place inside rather than in the cold on the street and dedicated support services will be immediately on hand. We’ve also listened to people experiencing homelessness who’ve told us they won’t come inside without their dogs and that women need their own spaces. These are all important steps forward.

This fundamental change to the front end of homelessness services and winter accommodation in Oxfordshire will be a catalyst for change across the wider system. We are working with our colleagues in Oxfordshire’s councils, St Mungo’s, Crisis, Homeless Oxfordshire, Turning Point, A2Dominion, Luther Street Medical Centre and other homelessness service providers to deliver this flagship project. I’d also like to thank Oxford Direct Services for their tireless work in making Floyds Row fit for purpose.

Floyds Row will also enable us to deliver on our commitment to provide more winterlong shelter to anyone experiencing homelessness – wherever they’re from, whatever the temperature outside.

All of this comes with a bigger price tag than we originally expected but that’s because quality costs and we believe that nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford – or indeed Oxfordshire. By investing in prevention we’re also helping reduce the human and public cost of homelessness.

Our own Oxfordshire Trailblazer project estimated that their work preventing homelessness meant an average public expenditure saving of nearly £14,000 for each successful intervention. That’s why we’re hopeful the MHCLG will give us more help to transform the way we tackle homelessness in Oxfordshire.

Councillor Linda Smith, deputy leader and cabinet member for leisure and housing

The council has also been working with Oxfordshire Community Foundation, local homelessness organisations, community groups and individuals to develop a citywide partnership with the aim of ensuring that nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford.

The Oxford Homeless Movement has now launched a rough sleeping charter and website aimed at people who need help or who want to help end homelessness. The partnership is also fundraising to help meet its objectives and this will include a new impact fund aimed at developing new service provision.

Oxford Homeless Movement will officially launch the rough sleeping charter and support website at Open House (36 Little Clarendon Street) on World Homeless Day, Thursday 10 October. It is encouraging organisations, businesses and individuals to attend the event, sign the rough sleeping charter and make a commitment to help end homelessness in Oxford.