Oxford City Council will host a citywide ‘Conversation’ with a wide range of individuals and groups who have an interest in helping to find solutions to the increase in rough sleeping in the city.
Levels of street homelessness are rising across the country and are nearing crisis point, with the number of people rough sleeping in England more than doubling between 2010 and 2016.
There are many factors why people can find themselves sleeping rough. Loss of accommodation and lack of affordable housing and poverty, but also people who are made vulnerable to being homeless through a range of individual circumstances and experiences which can include loss of income, family breakdown and mental health problems.
Street homelessness is a complex problem and the solutions must therefore also address wider social issues including drug and alcohol misuse along with complex mental health issues. That is why the City Council is bringing together a wide range of partners to work together and towards a common understanding of the causes and to a means to tackle street homelessness.
The City Conversation is an invitation-only event and will be held on Tuesday 28 November in The Assembly Room at Oxford Town Hall from 9:30am to 4pm.
Participants invited include people with lived experience of rough sleeping and homelessness; homelessness organisations and service providers, including health and mental health providers as well as other charities and voluntary groups; businesses and the universities; faith groups; public bodies, and local councillors and MPs.
It is hoped that the conversation is a starting point which will lead to the formation of a citywide partnership that works together to deliver effective, long-term solutions to rough sleeping and homelessness, and the creation of a homelessness charter for Oxford.
Oxford’s City Conversation comes as levels of rough sleeping are increasing significantly across the country, and the Chancellor’s announcement in the Budget this week of Housing First pilot funding for Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool to help tackle this.
In the latest street count conducted by Oxford City Council and homelessness organisations this month, 61 people were found to be sleeping rough on the night of the count, a significant increase from 33 in 2016.
Of these, six had a connection to Oxford, 13 had a connection to other Oxfordshire districts, and 21 had no connection any area of the county. A further 21 people were of unknown connection at the time of the count. The majority of people found on the count were UK nationals, and11 were from other EU countries.
Only six people were new to rough sleeping or unknown to services, while 33 were already known to services and had spent between two nights and six months sleeping rough. A further 22 are known to have been rough sleeping for over six months.
In addition to the official street count, the council and homeless organisations estimate that 89 people could be sleeping rough on any given night in Oxford, up from 47 in 2016.
Councillor Bob Price, Leader of Oxford City Council, said: “Rising homelessness is a national issue and the street count shows the devastating impact of the housing crisis on the streets of our city. This is a crisis that needs action from central government, including building many more affordable homes and requiring councils to do more to tackle rough sleeping in their own areas.
“Oxford does more than most councils to tackle rough sleeping, which means that homeless people end up on the city’s streets when they should be getting help elsewhere – at the street count, nearly a fifth of rough sleepers were known to have connections with other parts of Oxfordshire, and more than a third had no connection to Oxfordshire at all.
“I am pleased by the positive response of individuals and groups in Oxford to start an important conversation on how we can do more together to tackle rough sleeping in the city. I hope that the City Conversation will enable us to come up with a collective approach that will help us to reduce rough sleeping in Oxford.”
Paul Roberts, Chief Executive Officer of Aspire Oxford, said: “Aspire welcomes Oxford City Council's initiative for a City Conversation on rough sleeping in Oxford. We're supporting this effort to help kick-start a much needed, proactive and inclusive partnership response to tackling the growing challenge of homelessness in our city - particularly in its most visible form of rough sleeping - and we are keen to play our part in realising a vision where no one in Oxford has to spend a night on the streets."
Sue Jackson, Oxford Outreach Manager at St Mungo’s, said: “The number of people rough sleeping across England has increased by 51% since 2014. Oxford has also seen an increase in people sleeping rough in our community. This can be because of a number of complex reasons, including problems with ill health, a relationship breakdown, loss of a job or a tenancy. We work to support people away from the streets, alongside a range of excellent services in the city that also seek to help people move forward with their lives.
“St Mungo’s vision is that everyone has a safe place to call home and can fulfil their hopes and ambitions. We welcome this Oxford City Council initiative to start a meaningful conversation and forum of collaboration, coordination and cooperation within the sector and with members of the public. There is an enormous amount of goodwill which, when drawn together could represent an exciting way forward to explore different ways of working as a means to tackle and to ultimately end rough sleeping in the city.”
Mark Thompson, Chief Executive Officer of Connection Floating Support, said: “The City Conversation has the complete backing of Connection Floating Support. We welcome this initiative and its commitment to tackling rough sleeping and homelessness in Oxford. We are excited by the prospect of strengthening our links with local partner agencies, contributing to the conversation and listening to the views of all those with an interest in tackling the difficulties faced by the most vulnerable and marginalised members of our community”.
Alex Kumar, Chair of student group On Your Doorstep, said: "On Your Doorstep strongly supports opening up the local debate on homelessness, and just as we are prepared to criticise the council if they fall short, we are prepared to commend the council for moving forwards. In lieu of a nationwide conversation about homelessness, I look forward to a meaningful citywide conversation between the City Council and those who are fighting against the crisis on the streets of Oxford. I hope councils across the country may give voice to the voiceless today, that they may give homes to the homeless tomorrow."