Oxford City Council has agreed a £1.6m grant budget to help prevent rough sleeping and single homelessness.
Homelessness prevention grants are part of the council’s overall £9.1m investment to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping in 2021/22. These grants fund supported accommodation, street engagement initiatives, funding for council teams preventing homelessness, positive activities and employment support.
Supported accommodation (£856,575)
Funding for supported accommodation includes the council’s £219,030 contribution to a pooled budget with other Oxfordshire councils and the NHS. This will provide a total of 106 jointly commissioned beds and 79 of these will be reserved for people with a local connection to Oxford.
It also includes £607,545 for support staff and up to 101 beds in a range of supported accommodation provided by Matilda House, Homeless Oxfordshire, Response and Mayday Trust. The remaining £30,000 will be used to provide emergency shelter (SWEP) during severe winter weather.
Street engagement (£47,500)
Funding for street engagement allows the council’s street ambassador team and Thames Valley Police to engage with people experiencing rough sleeping – helping them to access services and to prevent anti-social behaviour.
Preventing homelessness (£78,009)
These grants fund a specialist tenancy sustainment officer at Elmore Community Services working with council tenants. They also contribute towards the council’s welfare reform team that helps people cope with changes to their benefits.
Positive activities and employment support (£199,367)
Positive activities grants provide core funding for The Porch day centre and the Gatehouse café, whose services include showers and laundry, food, training and education and a range of activities. These grants also include £61,164 to commission new day services provided at O’Hanlon House before the pandemic.
Employment support funding allows Aspire to provide training and employment opportunities for homeless and vulnerably housed people.
These grants include a contribution towards the council’s rough sleeping and single homeless team, free access to leisure services for people in supported accommodation and a sanctuary scheme for people experiencing domestic abuse.
As the pandemic hit last March, the government issued an ‘everyone in’ direction for councils to provide emergency housing for vulnerable homeless people, including those living in shared hostel spaces where they would be unable to practise social distancing. This meant the closure of the sit up (assessment) service at O’Hanlon House and the assessment hub and shelter in Floyds Row that had opened in January.
The council moved quickly to comply and secured a patchwork of 121 self-contained hotel and student rooms within two weeks of the direction. As temporary 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.
The council hopes that the vaccination programme will offer a way out of ‘everyone in’ arrangements and back to Floyds Row in 2021/22. The unallocated contingency fund will, if needed, allow the council to manage this transition.
“Nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford and our homeless prevention grants will help to fund up to 180 beds in jointly-commissioned services and a range of supported accommodation. They will also help to engage with people experiencing rough sleeping, provide employment support and core funding for positive activities and allow us to recommission day services.
“But homelessness prevention is about more than rough sleeping. This is why our grants include money to stop people from becoming homeless by supporting vulnerable tenants, helping people cope with changes to their benefits and also making it safer for women experiencing domestic abuse to stay in their own homes.
“We’ve had tangible success in helping people leave the streets behind for good since adopting the ‘everyone in’ approach as we first went into lockdown last year. This is something we want to continue and if the vaccination rollout continues to be a success we hope to be able to do it from Floyds Row this year. We’ve also set aside a contingency fund which will, if needed, help us manage the transition to Floyds Row or other accommodation as leases for interim housing blocks come to an end.”
Councillor Mike Rowley, cabinet member for affordable housing and housing the homeless