Oxford City Council is increasing its investment on preventing homelessness and rough sleeping to £7.4 million in 2020/21.
The increased investment means that the council will spend an extra £1.2 million on tackling homelessness and rough sleeping in the coming financial year – a 19% increase on 2019/20.
This will allow the council to continue its transformation of homelessness services with the full opening of the assessment hub and shelter in Floyds Row, fund more than 220 beds for rough sleepers in Oxford and provide a wide range of support to prevent families from becoming homeless.
Transforming services for rough sleepers
There were 43 people counted sleeping rough in Oxford during the November street count that contributes to annual government statistics on rough sleeping in England.
Increased investment in services means that the number of people experiencing rough sleeping at any one time is down by nearly a third (30%) on the record 61 people counted in November 2017.
This reduction comes despite the fact that outreach services report around 20 new people sleeping rough in the city every month.
To build on this achievement, the council has adopted a new approach to helping people experiencing rough sleeping and the £1.2 million in new funding will help it to provide a full range of services at the new assessment hub and shelter in Floyds Row.
Floyds Row is the centrepiece of the council’s transformation programme and its first wing opened on 16 January. Its role is to prevent rough sleeping and get people off the streets more quickly through improved assessment and a range of new accommodation and support services.
Floyds Row enables the effective engagement that is crucial to helping people by moving first conversations from the street into a warm, calm space co-designed by homeless people.
Both building and service design help create the right environment for people to participate in an intensive assessment process that establishes the right housing and support they need to leave homelessness behind.
The new centre is open round the clock all year round and provides access to onsite support for drug and alcohol dependency. Floyds Row is dog friendly and includes separate spaces and beds for women.
Floyds Row will be fully open in April. At full capacity during winter months it will provide assessment services and shelter for up to 56 people at risk of or experiencing rough sleeping.
Rough sleeping is the most visible form of homelessness, but the council is committed to preventing and reducing all types of homelessness.
The council has duties to prevent and relieve homelessness and in 2019 successfully prevented or ended homelessness for 458 families. While homelessness prevention can mean providing temporary accommodation or helping families find another home, the council’s work goes far beyond this.
This work can include negotiating with landlords, providing budgeting support and coaching, and helping people into work, to apply for benefits or access other sources of temporary financial support.
The council’s welfare reform team supports residents affected by benefit cuts to sustain their tenancies, and a rent guarantee scheme offers guaranteed rent and tenancy management support to landlords while it works with tenants to improve their incomes.
The council also gives grants of more than £500,000 a year to Oxford’s independent advice centres to help people with issues like benefits, debt and money management.
Providing affordable and settled housing is a key part of preventing homelessness and the council is proposing significant additional funding on top of the £7.4 million.
The 2020/21 budget includes £136 million to build 620 more council homes and a further £21 million to buy houses and convert them into council homes. Oxford now has around 7,800 council homes and is the only local authority in Oxfordshire to have kept its stock of housing.
On most days, an hour in the heart of our city will reveal the terrible human cost of a national homelessness crisis sparked by austerity, welfare reform and a broken rental market. Much less obvious is the work that we and our partners do to help hundreds of people off the streets every year.
But homelessness prevention is about more than rough sleeping and can include finding housing for families or supporting parents facing eviction because they can’t afford to pay the rent and put food on the table.
We’re increasing our investment in all homelessness prevention to £7.4 million a year in 2020/21 – £1.2 million more than last year.
In January we opened our new assessment hub and shelter in Floyds Row. Co-designed by homeless people, Floyds Row is a place where people can get the shelter and support they need to move on from the streets and into sustainable housing as quickly as possible.
Homelessness is not inevitable and it is not something we will ever accept. Everybody deserves a decent roof over their head and nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford.
Councillor Linda Smith, deputy leader and cabinet member for leisure and housing