New strategy to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping

Published: Thursday, 21st September 2017

Oxford City Council has announced a new strategy to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping in the city.

It addresses the city-wide impacts of what is a national issue and will see a net increase in the number of beds to be made available to support rough sleepers with a connection to Oxford.

Councillor Mike Rowley, Board Member for Housing said: “We are seeing a national homelessness crisis that is impacting Oxford along with the rest of the country. This requires central government action, rather than just leaving the burden and cost to those cities that attract people needing help from elsewhere, as a result of having done more to tackle their own local share of the problem. Oxford City Council already does more than most other local authorities.

“We’ve launched a consultation on our new strategy to help tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. As part of the consultation process, we will convene meetings with key stakeholders to assess the causes and potential remedies for the rising levels of street homelessness. We will also engage rough sleepers and service users directly to consult them on the strategy.”

Oxford City Council is working in partnership with voluntary groups and charity partners and has developed the following principles to tackle rough sleeping:

  • No first night out – working with our partners to prevent people from ending up on the street
  • No second night out – a swift intervention to make sure that anyone we may have missed does not have to spend a second night sleeping rough. 
  • No living on the streets – personalised services so that every person routinely sleeping rough is treated as an individual and supported to get off the streets for good
  • Provide an effective pathway – so that there is accommodation and where necessary supported housing available to move people into for the long term after they’ve been temporarily in a hostel to get them immediately off the streets
  • No return to the streets – to reduce evictions from supported housing, where those placements go wrong, by working even more closely with partners, particularly in mental health services.
  • Crisis provision – ensure we have enough crisis accommodation, including reviewing winter and severe weather provision
  • Reconnecting people with their home areas – around 50% of people sleeping rough on our streets have no local connection. We will help them find the support they need in their own areas, rather than sleeping on Oxford’s streets, or expecting a long-term solution in the city. 

Stephen Robertson, CEO, The Big Issue Foundation, said: “As a partner of the Oxford Homeless Pathway, The Big Issue Foundation recognises the visible on-going challenges of the scale of homelessness in the city.  We remain committed to working with the Pathway in tackling the issues and on a daily basis we work with individuals to provide a ‘hand up and not a hand out’, recognising that earning an income is a key step in a person’s journey towards stability and a better life. 

“We seek to address the fundamental issues attached to social and financial exclusion to change lives for good .  The hard truth is that the whole country has faced a genuine homelessness crisis for years, with Oxford no exception, and the number of people sleeping rough in our city isn’t shrinking.  This is despite the fact that we’ve all been working hard on this together, with Oxford City Council investing a lot of time, energy and money in support services – a lot more in fact than in many other parts of the country. 

“We welcome today’s announcement that the City Council is going to redouble its efforts, and fully commit itself to a new citywide-partnership approach.  Street homelessness of this scale is an indictment on our society, and we are right behind Oxford’s fresh push to tackle this crisis.”

Homeless hostel provision

There are currently two homeless hostels in the city – O’Hanlon House and Simon House – with a total of 108 beds. From 1 April 2018 and until 31 March 2020, the following number of bed spaces will be funded for City Council use under the pooled budget arrangements:

  • 27 in O’Hanlon House
  • 22 in Simon House - the City Council has confirmed it will continue to fund around 22 beds at Simon House whilst a new 22-25 bed fit-for-purpose hostel (with 15 additional units of move-on housing) is built on a new site
  • 31 in Connection Support dispersed housing
  • 21 in Mayday Trust dispersed housing

Total 101 beds

In addition, the City Council provides the following beds from its own funds to meet demand in Oxford:

  • 41 in dispersed housing Project 41
  • 10 in Mayday Trust dispersed housing
  • 5 in specialist housing adopting the ‘Housing First’ model
  • 10 in Acacia Housing (also adopting the Housing First model).

Additional 66 beds

This total of 167 beds for rough sleepers with a connection to Oxford excludes a further 10 spaces in sit up services, as well as winter provision.  The City Council is in discussion with the churches and universities around the provision of winter accommodation for all rough sleepers, regardless of connection when the weather is severely cold.

The pooled budget also funds the following provision across the county for the District Councils:

  • 29 in O’Hanlon House (beds proportioned between Districts for District use)
  • 13 in Banbury for Cherwell District Council
  • 6 in Chipping Norton for West Oxfordshire District Council
  • 13 in Abingdon for South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse District Councils

Lastly, Oxfordshire County Council decommissioned the Lucy Faithful House hostel in 2015 and its 61 beds have been re-provided through a dispersed housing service around the city run by Mayday Trust (31) and Connections (31). The building itself is in poor condition and no longer suitable as a modern hostel for the future. The City Council will be developing the site for much needed affordable housing. In October this year, the City Executive Board (CEB) will consider a report requesting permission to demolish it and take forward the development via the council’s housing company.