Council secures winter overnight accommodation for rough sleepers

Published: Tuesday, 17th October 2017

Oxford City Council has secured overnight accommodation for rough sleepers over the winter months.

The City Council has been working with our partners, including voluntary sector homelessness providers, charities and churches to ensure there is sufficient provision of bed spaces for rough sleepers in Oxford year round and during the winter months.

Due to the increase in the number of people sleeping rough, we have worked with partners to ensure that our provision in 2017/18 meets demand. This includes our core supply of 162 - rising to 167 - hostel beds as a result of our expansion of the Acacia Project, together with additional emergency beds that can be made available within the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP), under guidance set out nationally by the Homeless Link charity. We believe this provision, together with the initiative brought forward by the churches, will be sufficient to meet demand from rough sleepers this winter.

It is not a statutory requirement to provide shelter for rough sleepers during the winter, but the Council believes it has a humanitarian obligation to do what it can to prevent deaths on the streets caused by adverse weather. The Council’s SWEP arrangements are operated with key partners including St Mungo’s and Oxford Homeless Pathways (OxHoP).

Our approach in planning and managing emergency winter capacity is to utilise hostels where services are already currently provided on a 24/7 basis - eg Simon House, or O’Hanlon House. Additionally, we work with established organisations - eg St Mungo’s and The Porch - to plan and deliver a safe service from a suitable temporary location. This approach is important from a safety perspective, given clients’ complex needs, and is supported by our voluntary sector partners.

Our partners share our view that attempting to open another facility could compromise the safety and effectiveness of core Adult Homeless Pathway and Outreach services, including planned emergency winter provision, by stretching staff capacity too far, across too many different locations and with reduced staff/client ratios. 

Councillor Mike Rowley, Board Member for Housing, said: “The Council is working with homelessness organisations to ensure that when the temperature is forecast to fall to zero or below on 3 consecutive nights additional bed spaces will be available as part of our severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP). 

“Simon House, O’Hanlon House and The Porch/St Mungo’s have offered to open these emergency beds over the Bank Holidays over the Christmas and New Year period (total of 5 nights), regardless of temperatures

“Churches in Oxford are planning to operate an emergency night shelter in the City between January and March. OxSpot, our Outreach Team, has agreed to make referrals to the scheme and provide support to help people access suitable longer term accommodation.

”I would urge people who wish to help rough sleepers this winter to donate money or sleeping bags and roll mats to the churches or one of the various voluntary organisations that we work with to help get people off the streets for good”.

Claire Dowan, CEO, Oxford Homeless Pathways (OxHOP), said: “At Oxford Homeless Pathways we provide accommodation and support for up to 200 single homeless people through our hostel and houses in the community. 

“As the weather begins to change we work in partnership with Oxford City Council and put in place our annual plans to operate the government’s Severe Weather Emergency Protocol or SWEP ensuring that extra bed spaces are provided to rough sleepers during severe and cold weather. 
 “At O’Hanlon House we already operate an additional “Sit Up” service and provide space for up to 10 people who are not accommodated by us to have a space to rest overnight. When SWEP is operational a further 10 spaces are available at the hostel and additional space is provided through our partners.
“We recognise that cold weather and Christmas is both practically and emotionally extremely difficult for rough sleepers and we continue to work collaboratively with St Mungo’s and the City Council to try to meet the need.
“Oxford Homeless Pathways provides a place of safety and support 365 days a year and the extension of SWEP over the holiday period will enable us to offer more space. This is an emergency-type provision, and a service like this requires lots of additional resource and capacity - because of this we cannot provide it on a longer term basis.”

Jon Fitzpatrick, Director, The Porch, said: “In preparation for the winter months The Porch has been working with the city council, St Mungo’s and SS Mary & John to ensure that should the need arise then there will be provision available for the delivery of SWEP.

“For some time now we have been aware of an increasing desire by churches to help alleviate the suffering of the noticeably increased amount of rough sleepers in and around Oxford and it would be fair to say that without the offer of a venue and volunteers by SS Mary & John Church, then we would not be in a position to provide bed spaces.

“In partnership with St Mungo’s we will be accommodating approximately 10 people per night. As well as providing shelter warmth and safety we will have experienced staff working side by side with volunteers so that any needs can be met and that there is conversation and friendship on offer should these be required.

“There is a robust allocations system in place to ensure that SWEP is run as smoothly as possible and that people are sent to a place that best meets their needs. We appreciate that there is a great deal of need amongst the client group which exists all year round and not only through the winter period however it is a reflection of the City Council’s good will that work for this began during Spring this year.”  

Tackling homelessness
The Council's homelessness services focus on meeting the needs of homeless people in the city. We work with the voluntary sector, NHS, Social Services and the Police to help ensure that is the case. It must be remembered that not everyone on the street has nowhere to go, and not everyone accepts help.  Welfare reform and cuts to mental health services have been major factors in the rise in rough sleeping.
 
The Council spends £1.4m a year on homelessness services, funding a total of 167 beds with associated support services for rough sleepers.  We have maintained the number of beds available to help rough sleepers to get the support they need and rebuild their lives in suitable, settled accommodation. Indeed we are planning to expand the Acacia Project which takes a ‘Housing First’ approach to getting people who have complex needs to get off the streets for good. We are also spending a total of £15 million on acquiring property to house homeless people.

Lucy Faithfull House (LFH)
LFH was decommissioned in 2016 following Oxfordshire County Council’s decision to cease commissioning services for rough sleepers and single homeless people. Oxford City Council has helped to ensure that these beds have all been re-provided in Oxford through services provided by Mayday Trust and Connections Support. There has been no reduction in provision.

We have worked with our homelessness partners including voluntary sector and church groups and we believe there is sufficient emergency capacity to meet expected demand this winter. 

There is no funding to operate LFH as a homeless shelter.  The County Council provided £500,000 a year for this purpose. 

Not only is this level of funding not available, it would also be a poor use of public funds. There is increasing evidence that personalised, strengths-based services delivered to people living in individual or small units of accommodation – rather than large hostels - are more effective in helping homeless people escape the streets for good.
 
You cannot just put rough sleepers, many of them with very complex needs and chaotic lives, in a deteriorating empty building with no services or utilities and leave them there without professional support.  It would be extremely unsafe and an abdication of our duty of care to those people.
 
The LFH building is unsafe and unsuitable for any use. Replacing it with affordable homes will help to relieve pressure on other homeless services, as the lack of affordable homes means that people remain stuck in temporary accommodation as they can't afford to rent.