In November, Oxford City Council conducted the statutory street count that forms the basis of annual government statistics on rough sleeping in England.
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 November, the council counted 43 people sleeping rough on the night. This is a 16% decrease from the 51 people counted in September and a four percent decrease from the 45 people counted in November 2018.
The numbers in detail
Nine people (21%) were women, compared to the six women (12%) counted in September.
Two people (five percent) had accommodation in Oxford but chose to sleep out on the night, when in September one person (two percent) did so. Fourteen people (33%) had returned to the streets after being accommodated, the same proportion as the 17 people counted in September.
Nine of the people counted (21%) had been sleeping rough for less than six months and one person (two percent) was newly verified by the outreach team (OxSPOT) on the night. In September, 13 people (25%) had been sleeping rough for less than six months with another eight people (16%) newly verified during the count.
Twenty seven people (61%) had been sleeping rough for more than six months, an increase from 26 people (51%) in September.
Between the September and November counts the number of people sleeping rough for over a year increased from 21 (44%) to 26 (60%) 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. The two most common support needs in November were alcohol issues and mental health needs, with 18 people (42%) identified with each of these.
People experiencing rough sleeping frequently have overlapping support needs and 20 people (47%) counted in November had four overlapping needs.
Thirteen people sleeping rough (30%) had a local connection to Oxford, a bigger proportion than the 13 (25%) also counted in September. The number of people with a known local connection elsewhere in Oxfordshire doubled from three (six percent) to six people (14%).
The number of homeless UK nationals experiencing homelessness fell from 24 (47%) in September to 21 (49%) in November. The number of EU nationals sleeping rough fell from 12 (24%) to 10 (23%) people.
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.
Estimating rough sleeping in Oxfordshire
Every November the council also undertakes an intelligence-led estimate of the number of people sleeping rough on the night of the count in November. This estimate allows comparisons with the other Oxfordshire districts which undertake estimates rather than street counts. This is due to the mostly rural nature of the districts.
The council and other Oxfordshire districts have compiled a countywide estimate of rough sleeper numbers. This will be released in line with Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government guidance when the government issues annual statistics on rough sleeping in England on 28 February.
“Street counts are a snapshot of people experiencing rough sleeping on one night and they’re more useful in assessing trends than providing a definitive picture. But the November street count is a step in the right direction.
“We hold street counts every two months and the November count is used for the government’s annual statistics on rough sleeping in England. We’ve seen both a year on year reduction and a welcome drop in the number of people sleeping on our streets compared to September.
“We have more beds available for people experiencing rough sleeping than we did a year ago and we’re also transforming the way we deliver homelessness services. We anticipate that the opening of Floyds Row in January will help us to sustain this reduction in the number of people experiencing rough sleeping in Oxford.
“The key to helping people off the streets is effective engagement and this begins with the first conversation with someone experiencing rough sleeping. Floyds Row is moving that conversation from the streets to a warm, calm and safe space and ensuring that people have the support they need to move on into sustainable housing.
“We’re not complacent about the challenges we face and there are too many women, too many long term rough sleepers and too many people returning to the streets. But with more beds and more effective support in place we can make a real difference and I’m optimistic that we can sustain this improvement and go further towards meeting our ambition – nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford.”
Councillor Linda Smith, deputy leader and cabinet member for leisure and housing