Oxford City Council counted 25 people experiencing rough sleeping during its January street count – a 42% decrease from 43 people on the last count in November.
The council carries out street counts every two months and the January result means that the number of people counted experiencing rough sleeping in Oxford has more than halved (-51%) since September.
Street counts are a snapshot of people experiencing rough sleeping on one night. They cannot give a complete picture of everyone sleeping rough but they are useful in measuring trends and people’s needs over time.
Transforming homelessness services
As recently as September there were 51 people counted experiencing rough sleeping in Oxford – the second highest number on record after the 61 people counted in November 2017.
The last time there were fewer people counted sleeping rough than in January was in August 2015, when there were 22 rough sleepers.
It is too early to assess whether this reduction in the number of people experiencing rough sleeping can be sustained, particularly as council and church winter beds will close at the end of March. However, the council believes that increased investment and a new approach to tackling rough sleeping is already playing a part in bringing about this welcome reduction.
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 currently provides a Somewhere Safe to Stay service for people at risk of or newly experiencing rough sleeping and a winterlong shelter available to anyone. When the council activates emergency (SWEP) beds because the Met Office forecasts sub-zero overnight temperatures Floyds Row also plays a part as one of Oxford’s three SWEP venues.
Floyds Row will open fully in April. At full capacity during winter months it will provide assessment services and shelter for up to 56 people.
The council’s transformation programme also includes collaborative working with NHS partners and Oxfordshire’s five other councils to develop a countywide homelessness strategy. This strategy will create an effective whole system approach focused on prevention, early intervention and moving people on from rough sleeping.
Oxford Winter Night Shelter
In addition to council-funded provision, Churches Together in Oxford is also offering 20 beds for verified rough sleepers in the Oxford Winter Night Shelter (OWNS). OWNS opened on 1 January and closes at the end of March.
“We counted 25 people experiencing rough sleeping in January and this means that we’re counting half the number of people we did in September. This is a positive development.
“We still have a long way to go to meet our ambition that nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford and we’re increasing our investment in preventing homelessness to £7.4 million in 2020/21.
“New services and the opening of our assessment hub and shelter in Floyds Row are already delivering results in tackling the rough sleeping crisis on our streets, but there’s no room for complacency.
“Street counts only offer a snapshot of the number of people experiencing rough sleeping on one night and we know this is not the full picture. The closing of winter beds at the end of March is also likely to mean more people sleeping rough. But the January street count shows we are making good progress and I believe we can continue to sustain this in the months ahead.”
Councillor Linda Smith, deputy leader and cabinet member for leisure and housing
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.
More information about street counts
More information about how the council conducts street counts is at www.oxford.gov.uk/streetcount
A more detailed report on the people counted experiencing rough sleeping in January will be available on this page soon.