Oxford City Council is providing more help for people experiencing rough sleeping to protect them from the pandemic this winter.
On 8 January, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) announced £10m in additional funding for English councils to “redouble their efforts” to protect rough sleepers from the effects of COVID-19. The council is using this funding to secure 20 hotel rooms as emergency shelter until the end of March.
The council expects the 20 hotel rooms to be available by the end of this week.
The rooms will be offered to people known to be experiencing rough sleeping – including those who have refused all offers of support or returned to the streets during the pandemic – and to newly homeless people. The council is arranging food, essential supplies and support to help people move on into more settled housing.
The council is working with NHS and public health partners to ensure the availability of testing for homeless people and that they can register with a GP if needed. Planning is underway for people with experience of rough sleeping and staff in outreach and homelessness services to be included in priority groups for vaccination.
Housing vulnerable homeless people during the pandemic
The government originally issued an ‘everyone in’ direction for English councils to house vulnerable homeless people on 26 March last year. The council moved quickly to comply and secured 121 hotel and student rooms within two weeks, providing self-contained emergency housing for people who had been sleeping on the streets and in shared hostels.
As temporary agreements with hotels and colleges came to an end in July, the council leased two blocks to provide 118 rooms of self-contained interim housing for another year. Interim housing is a bridge from emergency accommodation and the streets, providing a breathing space for people to get the support they need to leave homelessness behind.
With the help of £2m from the Next Steps Accommodation Programme (NSAP), the council has housed 303 people since lockdown last March. Of these, 134 people have already been helped into more permanent housing. The 20 new hotel rooms will help the council to maintain this approach and to mitigate increased pressure on homelessness services as a result of the pandemic.
NSAP funding will also help deliver longer term ‘housing led’ solutions over the next few years. The council expects to invest £9.1m in homelessness prevention in 2021/22. This is a 44% increase on 2019/20, the last full year before the pandemic.
“Vaccination rollout is still in its early stages and cases in Oxford have surged since the end of November. This makes it more important than ever that we can do what we can to ensure nobody should have to sleep rough on our streets.
“We’re providing 20 more rooms of emergency shelter and the essential support that people need. We’re also working with health and public health partners to ensure the availability of testing and help people with experience of rough sleeping who are not registered with a GP to do so.”
Councillor Mike Rowley, cabinet member for affordable housing and housing the homeless