The number of people estimated to be sleeping rough in Oxfordshire has nearly halved in a year, thanks to extraordinary efforts by councils and their partners to house vulnerable homeless people.
In November, Oxfordshire’s five city and district councils undertook the annual estimates that contribute to English rough sleeping statistics released today (Thursday 25 February). The councils estimated that there were 45 people experiencing rough sleeping across the county – a 46% decrease from the 2019 estimate of 83 people.
While the estimates are a snapshot taken on one night, the councils believe that this reduction illustrates their success in meeting a government directive to get ‘everyone in’ at the outbreak of the pandemic.
The ‘everyone in’ approach means that all people experiencing rough sleeping have been offered accommodation throughout the pandemic, together with the support they need to move on into more sustainable housing. Where people refuse offers of help or return to the streets, outreach services continue to engage with them to offer support and shelter.
How many people were estimated to be sleeping rough
Three quarters of people experiencing rough sleeping are in Oxford itself, where Oxford City Council estimated that the number of people sleeping rough had fallen from 62 to 26.
There were 10 people experiencing rough sleeping in Cherwell, compared to 11 in 2019. However all 10 were being assessed by Cherwell District Council at the time of the estimate and none of them are still sleeping rough. The council believes that there are currently no people experiencing rough sleeping in Cherwell.
South Oxfordshire estimated a decrease from four to three rough sleepers. In Vale of White Horse the council estimated that there was one person experiencing rough sleeping when in 2019 there were three.
West Oxfordshire was the only area where there was an increase in people experiencing rough sleeping, with West Oxfordshire District Council estimating that there were five rough sleepers compared to the 2019 estimate of three people.
Housing vulnerable homeless people during the pandemic
As the pandemic struck last March, the government issued an ‘everyone in’ direction for English councils to provide emergency housing for vulnerable homeless people, including those living in shared hostel spaces.
In Oxford itself this included people sleeping on the streets and those in Floyds Row and the sit up (assessment) service at O’Hanlon House. Oxford City Council moved quickly to comply with the direction and secured 121 self-contained hotel and student rooms within two weeks. As the first lockdown eased and leasing agreements with hotels and colleges came to an end in July, the council leased two blocks to provide 118 rooms of interim housing for another year, managed by St Mungo’s.
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.
The council has subsequently been awarded £2m in funding from the Next Steps Accommodation Programme to provide interim housing during this financial year and to develop longer term ‘housing led’ solutions in the next few years.
So far, Oxford City Council has provided emergency and interim housing for 328 people and 147 of them have been supported into more permanent housing.
Cherwell District Council reported the second highest estimate of people experiencing rough sleeping and the council has also been successful in delivering ‘everyone in’. So far, Cherwell has moved 54 people from hotels and emergency placements into interim and supported accommodation. Another 30 people have been given permanent settled housing.
In the south of the county, South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse have successfully helped 46 and 57 people respectively into long-term, settled housing.
Partnership working in Oxfordshire
The five councils are committed to working collaboratively with Oxfordshire County Council and NHS partners to help prevent and reduce rough sleeping. A pooled budget arrangement for Oxfordshire means there will be 106 jointly commissioned beds in supported accommodation during 2021/22.
Councils and health partners have also been working with Crisis to establish a joint strategy for reducing rough sleeping and are working to deliver housing led services across Oxfordshire from April 2022.
In the UK, homeless people have generally moved from the streets to independent living in stages. Housing led approaches like Housing First instead say that people should be offered permanent housing immediately and without preconditions like engaging with treatment services. The partners are aiming for this to be the default response to ending rough sleeping in Oxfordshire from 2022.
“The number of people estimated to be experiencing rough sleeping across the county fell by nearly half and that’s good news as nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxfordshire.
“While an estimate is a snapshot of the situation on one night in November, this welcome reduction reflects the hard work of all councils and our partners in continuing to protect vulnerable homeless people throughout the entire pandemic.
“The ‘everyone in’ approach gave homeless people a breathing space and in many cases the bit of stability they needed to make successful plans to move on. We need to continue this approach and we’re working closely with our neighbouring councils, Oxfordshire County Council, the NHS and Crisis to make this a reality.”
Councillor Mike Rowley, Oxford City Council cabinet member for affordable housing and housing the homeless
“These figures show when there is a concerted and coordinated response it becomes clear that homelessness can be ended. Our teams have been working non-stop during the pandemic to offer everyone a safe place to stay and I’m incredibly proud of all we have achieved.
“We know that we have some difficult times ahead as we move towards a post pandemic recovery. We are continuing to see new people rough sleeping on Oxford’s streets due to circumstances bought on by the pandemic. It is vital we continue to work with our partners and Oxford City Council.”
“We must build on these achievements of the last year and transform this emergency way of working into a new normal with a focus on longer term solutions to support people out of homelessness.”
Matt Rudd, St Mungo’s regional head
“Our council officers work hard to help prevent homelessness becoming a way of life. Recent successes include projects such as Housing First where we work with partner agencies to help rough sleepers find permanent accommodation straight from the streets. This means they do not have to go through the process of first going to emergency accommodation and then to temporary accommodation first. Both of which can be stressful for people with complex needs.”
Councillor David Rouane, cabinet member for housing and environment at South Oxfordshire District Council
“Prevention is better than cure when it comes to homelessness. The councils have a duty to do all they can to help people who find themselves homeless or at risk of it and the low numbers of rough sleepers show that the work being done is really helping people.”
Councillor Helen Pighills, cabinet member healthy communities for Vale of White Horse District Council
How estimates are compiled
Estimates are intelligence-led snapshots based on data from councils, outreach teams, other service providers and local partners about the number of people sleeping rough on a particular night.
Estimates are compiled using national guidance from Homeless Link. They provide a relatively accurate picture of everyone experiencing rough sleeping in an area and can be effective in measuring trends and monitoring progress over time.
Oxford City Council also carries out snapshot street counts of people experiencing rough sleeping and undertakes the annual estimate to enable a comparison with its neighbouring councils. In November, the council counted 19 people sleeping rough on the night – a 59% decrease from the 43 people counted in 2019.
Estimates are a more appropriate way of evaluating rough sleeping in largely rural districts.