An initiative that makes homeless provision in Oxfordshire more effective by consulting people with lived experience has been recognised at national charity Homeless Link’s annual Excellence Awards.
The ‘Stronger Voice’ award recognises the impact of Oxfordshire’s Lived Experience Advisory Forum (LEAF) in highlighting the true nature and scale of homelessness, while challenging the systems that aren’t working for those experiencing it. LEAF was initiated by Oxfordshire Homeless Movement (OHM) and is now being funded thanks to generous donations from local businesses and the public during OHM’s Christmas appeal last year. Ten members contribute their recent experience of being homeless in Oxfordshire.
Oxfordshire has an impressive array of statutory and charitable services to alleviate homelessness locally. Historically, these services have typically been designed with limited input from people who have been homeless, and may therefore miss key features that will determine whether they succeed or fail. Homelessness has remained a seemingly intractable problem in our area for many years, so OHM introduced LEAF to ensure that provision for those experiencing homelessness really meets their needs.
The group is working with local councils, Thames Valley Police and delivery charities to co-design outreach services that will be more effective and long-lasting. One example is a research study carried out by Crisis into a new approach for tackling homelessness across Oxfordshire. LEAF members were key interviewees in the study, and the recommendations of the research are now being implemented in partnership by all six local councils, which are adopting a system-wide approach to tackling homelessness. This puts homelessness prevention, collective responsibility and effective joint working at its heart, and this new alliance will deliver ‘housing-led’ services across Oxfordshire from April 2022.
Marie Cacace, homelessness and housing commissioning manager at Oxfordshire County Council, comments: “By working closely with LEAF we have gained invaluable insight into ways we can improve services for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. We are proud to continue our work with LEAF to ensure that people’s experiences of services continue to shape and improve them.”
Rick Henderson, CEO at Homeless Link, says: “Embedding the unique experiences and opinions of people with lived experience of homelessness is vital if services are to truly represent the needs of people in their area. LEAF’s commitment to achieving this in Oxford has already produced tangible results, encapsulating the spirit of the Stronger Voice award.”
As well as improving the support offered by homelessness organisations, LEAF has empowered its individual members, helping them see a future for themselves after the trauma of being homeless. LEAF member Tracy Joel comments: “LEAF has helped me to gain more confidence and not to be frightened to have an opinion, giving me new skills. It is good to know my contribution will hopefully mean that no-one else has to go through what I went through.”
What you can do to help
By giving to OHM’s 2021 Christmas appeal, you will be enabling LEAF’s work to continue into the coming year.
· Make a one-off gift to help us continue the vital work with LEAF
· Make a regular donation to help us deliver this project and others well into the future
You can donate online or by sending a cheque made payable to Oxfordshire Community Foundation with OHM written on the reverse to Oxfordshire Homeless Movement, PO Box 941, Oxford OX1 9TQ.