Oxford City Council conducts overnight street counts of people sleeping rough in the city under its funding agreement with the government’s Rough Sleeper Initiative. These take place every two months.
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.
Number of people sleeping rough
In September, the council counted and verified 51 people sleeping rough on the night – a 24 percent increase from the 41 people counted in July and a 42 percent increase from the 36 people counted in September 2018.
This is the second highest number of people experiencing homelessness after the 61 people counted in November 2017.
The numbers in detail
Six people (12 percent) were identified as women, compared to the 11 women (27 percent) counted in July.
Only one person (two percent) had accommodation in Oxford but chose to sleep out on the night, when in July five people (12 percent) did so. Seventeen people (33 percent) had returned to the streets after being accommodated, an increase from the 11 people (27 percent) counted in July.
A quarter of those counted (13 people) had been sleeping rough for less than six months and another eight people (16 percent) were newly verified by the outreach team (OxSPOT) on the night. In July, 16 people (39 percent) has been sleeping rough for less than six months with another three people (seven percent) newly verified during the count.
Twenty six people (51 percent) had been sleeping rough for more than six months, an increase from 14 people (34 percent) in July.
Between the July and September counts the number of people sleeping rough for over a year increased from nine (22 percent) to 21 (41 percent) individuals.
Services can find it hard to engage with long term rough sleepers and those who return to the streets repeatedly, as many of them have more than one unmet support need. More than a third of the people counted in September (19 individuals) had alcohol issues and over a quarter (14 people) had mental health needs.
The number of homeless UK nationals experiencing homelessness fell from 28 (68 percent) in July to 24 (47 percent) in September. There was a big increase in the number of EU nationals sleeping rough from two (five percent) to 12 (24 percent) people.
Thirteen people sleeping rough (25 percent) had a local connection to Oxford, a decrease on the 17 (41 percent) counted in July. As in July, three people experiencing homelessness (six percent) had a known local connection elsewhere in Oxfordshire.
Interpreting street counts
Street counts can only ever offer a snapshot of people experiencing homelessness. They count people seen sleeping rough or bedding down during an overnight window of several hours.
Street counts cannot capture common scenarios like known rough sleepers not seen or engaging in night time activity, or people sleeping in stairwells and inaccessible sites.
The street count team found an encampment of six people known to be long term rough sleepers who had not been seen on previous counts. This goes partway to explaining the increase in overall numbers, EU nationals and people who have been sleeping rough for more than a year.
The council will also undertake an intelligence-led estimate of the number of people sleeping rough on the night of the next count in November. This will give a higher figure than the street count because it will draw upon a wider range of data sources. These include information from OxSPOT, service providers and teams within the council.
National causes, local effects
Overarching national issues like welfare reform, austerity and a lack of secure, genuinely affordable housing drive the rise in the number of people sleeping rough. Rough sleeping in England increased by 165 percent between 2010 and 2018.
Earlier this month councillors agreed a new approach to tackling rough sleeping that will mean improved assessment and a range of new accommodation and services – all aimed at getting people off the streets and into sustainable housing more quickly.
Building on learning from its successful Oxfordshire Trailblazer project, the council has committed to working with other councils and health partners across Oxfordshire to develop a countywide strategy for rough sleeping and single homelessness. This will entail an effective whole system approach focused on prevention, early intervention and moving people on from rough sleeping.
The centrepiece of these transformational plans is the conversion of 1 Floyds Row into an engagement and assessment centre that will be open around the clock and will include winterlong shelter available to anyone experiencing homelessness.
“Street counts are a snapshot taken on one night and their main value is in measuring trends and the needs of people experiencing homelessness. That said, this is the second highest count on record and it’s hugely disappointing as we are working so hard to get people off the streets for good.
“We want to prevent and reduce all forms of homelessness. This year we’ve committed £6 million to homelessness prevention, including providing more than 200 beds for people experiencing rough sleeping. Despite our best efforts, the effects of austerity mean that vulnerable people with increasingly complex needs continue to fall through the safety net and hit the streets.
“We’re transforming the way we provide services to prevent and reduce rough sleeping and the September street count demonstrates the need to do this. It’s a tough ask given that homelessness is a national crisis sparked by government policy but it’s absolutely necessary.
“People who are new to homelessness have different needs from the third of people we counted who returned to the streets in September or the growing number of long term rough sleepers. By transforming our assessment and engagement processes and providing the right range of accommodation and support we can meet those needs and help people away from homelessness and into sustainable housing.
“We do need help to achieve this. Although we’ve been successful in winning government funding to tackle homelessness this funding is not guaranteed, it’s time limited and we have to reapply for it every year. It’s also not enough.
“Austerity and the end of ring-fenced funding mean that English councils now spend a billion pounds a year less on homelessness support than they did nine years ago. The consequences are all too obvious on our streets – not just in Oxford but in towns and cities across the country. If the government wants to meet its target of ending rough sleeping by 2027, it must restore funding to pre-austerity levels.”
Councillor Linda Smith, deputy leader and cabinet member for leisure and housing
Oxford Homeless Movement
On World Homeless Day (10 October), the council helped launch Oxford Homeless Movement, a new citywide partnership with the aim of ensuring that nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford. The partnership has produced an Oxford rough sleeping charter and is asking businesses, organisations and individuals to sign up to its vision and values – and to make a commitment to help end rough sleeping in Oxford.
The Oxford Homeless Movement website provides information on how to give time, money or help in kind to organisations supporting people sleeping rough. It also gives guidance and advice for people who need help.
Oxford Homeless Movement is asking for direct donations. All money raised by the partnership will be split between charities providing services for homeless people in the city, the delivery of the new Floyds Row hub and a new impact fund aimed at developing new services.
More information about street counts
More information about how the council conducts street counts is at www.oxford.gov.uk/streetcount