Oxford City Council is proposing to increase its budget supporting rough sleepers and single homeless people to more than £1.8 million in the coming financial year (2018/19).
The council says more than £1,834,000 is needed in the year ahead because of growing numbers of people sleeping rough and changes to funding for housing related support services in Oxfordshire.
There were 61 rough sleepers counted on the city’s streets during the 2017 street count, a significant increase from 33 in 2016. The council estimates that there could be up to 89 rough sleepers in Oxford on any given night.
Oxfordshire County Council had proposed to reduce its funding for housing related support services from £1.5 million a year to zero in April 2019 – although the County has now agreed to provide a welcome £500,000 in 2019/20.
As a result of this, Oxford City Council has commissioned services that were previously funded by Oxfordshire County Council. In 2017, it also entered into a three year pooled budget arrangement with other Oxfordshire district councils, the County and the NHS to mitigate the impact of this reduced funding.
This means that the council now expects to spend £1.6 million on homelessness services in this financial year (2017/18), against an original budget of £1.4 million. The proposed budget increase to £1.8 million in 2018/19 will allow the council to absorb existing pressures and to fund additional services.
The council estimates that at least 150 beds are needed to meet the needs of Oxford rough sleepers, based on snapshot counts taken between 2015 and 2017. Funding from the pooled budget will pay for 79 of these, with the council commissioning a further 91 beds to meet need in the coming year. Additional available capacity in other services means that a total of 181 beds will be available for Oxford rough sleepers in 2018/19.
During sub-zero winter weather, emergency beds will also be made available for any rough sleeper who wants to come inside under the council’s Severe Weather Emergency Protocol.
On top of the £1.8 million budget, the council is also proposing to commit an additional £150,000 in the next two years to support the City Conversation on rough sleeping. The inaugural City Conversation event in November drew together a wide range of individuals and organisations with an interest in working together to tackle the rise in rough sleeping. Participants agreed a common vision of ensuring that nobody should have to sleep rough on the streets of Oxford.
The council and its partners have set up an interim steering group to take the City Conversation forward. The group is developing a proposal for the establishment of a rough sleeping charter for Oxford and a citywide partnership to deliver this. It is hoped that the partnership will deliver a number of new initiatives to help tackle rough sleeping and related issues, including the development of a digital platform for people to donate to organisations helping homeless people in Oxford.
Support for single homeless people and rough sleepers is additional to help given to families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. In 2016/17, Oxford City Council and its partners prevented 1,107 families from becoming homeless.
The budget proposals will be considered by the Housing Panel on 8 March and by the City Executive Board on 20 March.
Councillor Mike Rowley, Board Member for Housing, said: “Oxford City Council takes rough sleeping very seriously. We aim to spend more than £1.8 million on tackling rough sleeping and preventing single homelessness in the next year. Our budget proposals demonstrate our commitment to helping homeless people off the streets, even as we face a national homelessness crisis and cuts to services elsewhere. We believe that our proposals mean a bed will be available next year to any rough sleeper with an Oxford connection who wants to come inside.
“We are also committed to working with our partners and stakeholders to develop a rough sleeping charter for Oxford, and a citywide partnership that can deliver our shared vision that nobody should have to sleep rough on Oxford’s streets.”