Successful partnership working means that Oxford City Council is complying with a government direction to house rough sleepers and people in shared hostel spaces.
The council has already secured a total of 121 rooms in hotels and student accommodation blocks following the government direction on 26 March. All but six of these are now being occupied, with the remaining rooms expected to be ready next week.
One hundred formerly homeless people are now self-isolating and new support arrangements – including the provision of food and essential items – are in place to ensure they can do so safely throughout the coronavirus outbreak.
The need to quickly find enough rooms with appropriate support means the council’s Housing Needs team has been working closely with existing partners and forging new partnerships to meet this goal. These include arrangements with commercial hotels, the YHA and – from the University of Oxford – Saïd Business School, University College and Pembroke College.
While the beds already in place mean the council is able to meet immediate needs, it continues to look for suitable accommodation to prevent more people from having to sleep rough during the lockdown period.
On Thursday 26 March the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) told councils it was “imperative that rough sleepers and other vulnerable homeless are supported into appropriate accommodation.” In Oxford this included people in Floyds Row and the sit up (assessment) service at O’Hanlon House who could not practise social distancing because they were living in shared spaces.
By the time of the MHCLG direction the council was already working closely with Public Health England, Thames Valley Police, Turning Point, St Mungo’s outreach (OxSPOT), supported housing and day service providers to help ensure the safety of homeless people in Oxford. This meant that 21 hotel rooms were already available for people experiencing rough sleeping on 26 March.
Forty more hotel rooms were secured the following day (Friday 27 March), with another 42 rooms in the YHA added last week. The remaining 18 rooms now in place are in self-contained student accommodation leased through new partnerships with the University of Oxford.
Saïd Business School is providing 12 rooms outside the city centre that are now available for people at high risk of infection.
University College is providing the six rooms expected to open next week, and these will be for people displaying symptoms of coronavirus. The council has sourced the personal protective equipment (PPE) that will allow safe support to be given to people with symptoms of the virus.
To ensure that people are placed into suitable accommodation, the council has also opened a new triage service. It is working with St Mungo’s and Luther Street Medical Centre to house people based on whether they:
- have coronavirus symptoms
- have underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable but no symptoms
- have no underlying health conditions nor symptoms of the virus.
As the wing of Floyds Row that opened in January contained shared living spaces that meant residents could not practise social distancing, this has now closed for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak. St Mungo’s staff are now providing support across all venues where people are occupying self-contained accommodation.
The council is delivering food and essential items three times a day to ensure that people can self-isolate successfully and do not need to leave their rooms. This includes breakfast and two hot meals a day, provided as the result of a new partnership with Pembroke College’s catering team that began last Saturday (4 April) – until then, catering was provided by Leon Oxford.
To help meet the essential needs of people self-isolating, citywide partnership Oxford Homeless Movement has created an Amazon wishlist to provide items like kettles, toiletries, cutlery, electronic tablets, socks and underwear.
Some people experiencing rough sleeping have refused offers of accommodation and OxSPOT will continue to engage with them in the hope that they will change their minds. OxSPOT will also continue to support people who become homeless and are new to rough sleeping.
The council’s Community Response teams are also engaging with people still experiencing rough sleeping. Three long term rough sleepers have agreed to come inside this week following ongoing conversations with city centre ambassadors.
Meeting future needs
While the 121 beds already in place mean that the council has been able to respond to immediate needs, it has concerns that homelessness could occur from other directions. For example, the government’s three month ban on evictions does not include lodgers and any early release scheme for prisoners could add even more pressure on securing accommodation.
The council is in discussions with other parts of the University about providing a wider range of accommodation if the need arises.
“With 121 hotel and student rooms laid on in a matter of weeks, our housing team and partners old and new have worked incredibly hard to protect homeless people from coronavirus. I’d like to thank them for their effort and commitment.
“We’ve offered hotel rooms to everyone on the streets and are also mindful that the coronavirus emergency could lead to more people becoming homeless in future. We’re exploring options to provide a wider range of accommodation that – whatever happens – will help ensure nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford during these unprecedented times.”
Councillor Linda Smith, deputy leader and cabinet member for housing and supporting the homeless
“We’re extremely grateful to all partners who’ve helped us support people sleeping rough away from the street so rapidly. Rough sleeping is harmful and dangerous in itself. This hotel accommodation minimises risk of infection for people who may already be tackling health issues, and we’ll be looking to support them longer term as well.”
Matthew Rudd, St Mungo’s regional head for Oxford
“All credit to the city council for the immense amount of work undertaken to house the city’s rough sleepers and other homeless people so quickly. We at Oxford Homeless Movement are delighted the relationships we have helped to foster across the city are now able to pay dividends and our huge thanks to so many of our members and supporters who have rallied round behind the city’s efforts.”
Jane Cranston, chair of Oxford Homeless Movement
“I’ve always said that while we have one student in college who needs our support the kitchens here will not shut. We continue to look after those who have had to stay in residence, and when I heard about this need in the wider community it seemed obvious that we could provide the solution. My team, who are working long shifts with small numbers on duty at a time, have been fantastic in stepping up.”
Kevin Dudley, executive chef at Pembroke College
“Everyone in college is immensely proud of our catering team who are once again putting in extra effort to show the meaning of being a caring community.”
Dame Lynne Brindley, master of Pembroke College
“We at Oxford Saïd are glad to offer support to our wider community at this time of crisis. During the Covid-19 outbreak, we have shifted to running our teaching and events entirely online, finding innovative ways to address our goal of supporting future leaders and engaging with complex global challenges.
“Once the emergency is over, we look forward to opening our doors to our students and colleagues once again, and returning the building to its original use.”
Peter Tufano, Peter Moores dean, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford