An opinion piece by Cllr Linda Smith, cabinet member for housing, published in the Oxford Mail on 16 March 2023:
While we often talk of Oxford’s housing crisis it can be easy to forget that this is not something abstract. It touches the lives of people in so many ways. From too many people experiencing rough sleeping to nearly a third of children living in poverty because of the cost of housing, it comes with a big human price tag.
This is why I’m delighted that cabinet agreed to adopt a new five-year housing, homelessness and rough sleeping strategy last night. We’re going to provide more affordable and low carbon homes, improve conditions for renters and do more to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping.
It will not be easy. The cost of living crisis hitting so many people so hard means more demand for council services, with our own finances stretched by inflation and the pandemic. This means carrying on work we’re already doing to bring you better services, as well as working with partners to deliver our plans.
We’re putting preventing homelessness at the heart of our services. Prevention is always better than cure and we’ll be working harder and smarter to stop people from becoming homeless in the first place. Where homelessness is unavoidable, we’ll help people into a stable home as quickly as we can.
Nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford and the Oxfordshire Homeless Alliance is a key part of our plans. Launched last April, the Alliance has an annual budget of £3.8m and is developing a ‘housing led’ service to prevent and reduce rough sleeping across the county. It brings together the majority of outreach, accommodation and prevention services in a system-wide approach to tackling homelessness.
When we say ‘housing led’ we also mean a new way of helping people. Until now, people experiencing rough sleeping would normally move from the streets to independent living in stages.
Housing led approaches like our Housing First model take a different view. The crucial first step is to provide a settled roof over someone’s head, without preconditions like engaging with treatment services. Once this has been done, personalised support can be put in place to help prevent a return to the streets.
Housing First is a more effective way of helping people who find it difficult to cope in shared environments and who have complex support needs. We already have 18 people living in Housing First accommodation, all successfully maintaining their tenancies.
This is a great start. Next week, council will vote on adopting the new strategy and we will begin implementing it in April. That’s when the work really begins.
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