Oxford City Council and partners are helping former rough sleepers find settled homes as the government has called an end to the ‘everyone in’ initiative for vulnerable homeless people during COVID-19
As a result of this initiative, the council has offered self-contained accommodation to everyone experiencing rough sleeping in Oxford, as well as to those who were living in shared hostels, since the first lockdown was announced last March.
The stability offered by these arrangements has given many people the breathing space they need to leave the streets behind for good – so far, 215 out of 355 people housed have moved on successfully into more settled housing. The lease on the main ‘everyone in’ venue Canterbury House comes to an end on 19 July and St Mungo’s is working with the council’s Housing Needs team and Crisis to find alternative housing for its remaining 54 residents.
New placements in Canterbury House ended on 21 May.
Everyone will be offered help
The council is committed to having an offer of more settled housing for everyone leaving ‘everyone in’ and this will typically be in private rented housing or in supported accommodation. St Mungo’s, whose OxSPOT team manage ‘everyone in’ housing as well as running outreach and assessment services for the council, are providing intensive support to identify the right move-on options for people.
OxSPOT will continue to work with people who refuse offers of help to find them the right housing for their needs. When temporary winter venue Tower House Hotel closed on 15 May, only one of eight residents turned down their offer of accommodation and OxSPOT is continuing to support them.
In normal years, the number of people experiencing rough sleeping typically increases during the summer as temperatures rise. On 25 June OxSPOT estimated that there were 24 people experiencing rough sleeping in Oxford.
While this number is considerably lower than seen before COVID-19, it has been on the rise in recent weeks as people have returned to the streets – eight of the 24 people sleeping rough on 25 June had accommodation.
OxSPOT and other services will continue to work with these people, as well as those newly arriving on the streets, to help them return to the accommodation that is available to them.
After ‘everyone in’
When Canterbury House closes, the council will begin planning to move people on from the YHA, which is available until December. The council also looking at options for reopening Floyds Row safely and this will ideally be used to support people moving on from the YHA.
As it contained shared living spaces, it has not been possible to use Floyds Row for its original purpose as an assessment centre and shelter since the first lockdown. It is not clear to what extent the council will be able to do so given the current uncertainty around COVID-19 regulations and the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant. The council aims to ensure that there is accommodation available on an ongoing basis for people to access directly from the street.
The council is also working with Oxfordshire County Council, neighbouring districts and other local partners – including Crisis – to develop a system wide approach to tackling homelessness across Oxfordshire. A countywide steering group is in the process of commissioning a ‘housing led’ strategy for tackling homelessness, with a focus on single people and rough sleepers.
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.
No recourse to public funds
The government has also instructed councils that they should be no longer be offering accommodation to people with no recourse to public funds (NRPF), who are not normally entitled to housing or benefits because of their immigration status. NRPF rules were temporarily relaxed during ‘everyone in’.
As the council can no longer legally accommodate people with NRPF – there are 11 of these in Canterbury House – they will be referred to an Oxfordshire Homeless Movement project which has raised funds to provide housing for this group. This project is aiming to accommodate 12 people, and others with NRPF may be entitled to Home Office accommodation.
OxSPOT is also working with Asylum Welcome to identify and support people who may be able to get a change in their immigration status entitling them to claim benefits and housing.
“The ‘everyone in’ initiative means we’ve been able to provide safe housing for more than 350 vulnerable homeless people since the first lockdown 15 months ago. This has given many of them the breathing space they needed to move on, and so far 210 people have moved on into more settled housing.
“Everyone in’ saw universities, housing providers, the voluntary sector and community groups coming together to help us ensure nobody should have to sleep rough during the pandemic. We’d like to thank everyone who helped and in particular St Mungo’s, who have managed ‘everyone in’ accommodation as well as providing outreach and assessment services for us.
“We would also like to thank the neighbours who live around Canterbury House. They have been supportive and welcoming throughout the year, and we’re very grateful for that. We’re now working with St Mungo’s and Crisis to ensure that everyone leaving Canterbury House has an offer of more settled housing and that we continue to support people who don’t take up that offer.
“Thanks are also due to Oxfordshire Homeless Movement for stepping in to support people with NRPF, who we can no longer legally house. If, like us, you believe that nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford and want to do something to help, you can donate to support this project on the Oxfordshire Homeless movement website.”
Councillor Diko Blackings, cabinet member for affordable housing, housing security and housing the homeless
“Our councils in Oxfordshire responded brilliantly to ‘everyone in’. It was heartening to see that this really applied to everyone, including people with NRPF. At Oxfordshire Homeless Movement we want to fill critical gaps that others can’t. The generous support of private donors means we have developed a collaborative project to ensure that people with NRPF do not have to return to the streets as ‘everyone in’ ends.
“Aspire, Asylum Welcome and Connection Support will work together to accommodate and support this neglected group so that they can become self- sufficient, contributing members of our community. So far we have funds to help 12 people and our fundraising continues."
Neil Preddy, vice chair of Oxfordshire Homeless Movement