Council provides new beds and services for rough sleepers without an Oxford local connection

Published: Wednesday, 24th October 2018

As part of a government-funded pilot project, Oxford City Council is providing new beds and services for rough sleepers who do not have a local connection with Oxford.

In common with nearly all councils, Oxford City Council operates a local connection policy for rough sleepers. Up until now, in line with other authorities, a rough sleeper must usually have a connection to the local area to be eligible for supported housing beds in Oxford’s hostels and move on accommodation – known as the adult homeless pathway.

The new beds follow the council’s successful bids to the government’s temporary Rough Sleeping Initiative (RSI), which is targeted at areas with high levels of rough sleeping.

RSI funding and the development of other services means that up to 74 beds will be available for rough sleepers without an Oxford local connection this winter.

The council is providing 14 RSI beds for rough sleepers without a local connection or whose immigration status means they cannot claim benefits or housing.

In a partnership between A2Dominion and Aspire Oxford, six of these 14 beds have already opened in a winter shelter outside the city centre. Residents of the East Oxford winter shelter are already working with Aspire Oxford in the new RSI-funded rough sleeper hub to improve their employability. Another eight beds are due to open in the city centre on 1 November.

The council is working with neighbouring district councils to develop up to 20 RSI beds in winter shelters in Abingdon and Banbury.

The council commissions the St Mungo’s outreach team (OxSPOT) to verify rough sleepers and help them access beds in the homeless pathway and the support they need to rebuild their lives.

OxSPOT’s assessment process includes a full housing history, which gives the team an idea of a rough sleeper’s current needs but also where they may have a local connection – and where they may be able to access accommodation. During this process, rough sleepers can access sit up beds in Homeless Oxfordshire’s O’Hanlon House.

RSI funding means the number of sit up spaces has doubled to 20 in the last month.

Last winter, a group of Oxford churches opened the Oxford Winter Night Shelter (OWNS) from the beginning of January until the end of March. OWNS provided ten beds a night for lower risk verified rough sleepers, whatever their local connection. This coming winter, the churches plan to double OWNS provision to 20 beds a night.

Councillor Linda Smith, Deputy Leader of Oxford City Council and Board Member for Leisure and Housing, said: “Homelessness is a national crisis, but Oxford does significantly more than most cities to prevent and reduce rough sleeping. Nevertheless, many of those sleeping rough in the city have previously not been eligible to access Oxford’s homeless pathway. Now, with the help of additional temporary government funding, we are working with partners to ensure Oxford can accommodate up to 74 people without a local connection – including satellite facilities in Abingdon and Banbury. Of course, during severe winter weather, we ensure there are emergency beds available for anyone who wants to come inside.

“We also already fund our partners to provide a wide range of employment and training activities for rough sleepers and vulnerably housed people, and more than 100 hours a week in day services that take no account of local connection.”

The council already funds a range of services that are available to rough sleepers regardless of local connection.

This includes more than £143,000 a year on day services provided by Homeless Oxfordshire, The Porch Day Centre and The Gatehouse. Day services are available for more than 100 hours a week across the three agencies. The council also gives more than £100,000 a year to Aspire Oxford, Emmaus Oxford and The Big Issue Foundation to provide employment and training opportunities for homeless and vulnerably housed people.

RSI funding for new services comes from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). The council successfully bid for £503,000 in RSI funding for 2018/19, and the MHCLG has provisionally awarded a further £511,000 for 2019/20.

More information about what the council does to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping is at www.oxford.gov.uk/tacklinghomelessness

Notes to editors

Rough sleepers, local connection and street counts

There were 36 rough sleepers in Oxford on the night of the September street count. Seven of these (19 percent) had a connection to Oxford, seven (19 percent) had a connection to another Oxfordshire district, and three (8 percent) had a local connection elsewhere in the UK. Six rough sleepers (17 percent) had no local connection anywhere, with the remaining thirteen (36 percent) having a local connection that was unknown or under investigation.

Bi-monthly street counts are a requirement of RSI funding. They represent a snapshot and their main significance is in helping to establish trends. Street counts use a consistent method of capturing information, but they are not intended to be a complete picture of people sleeping rough in Oxford. The council recognises that there may well be more people sleeping rough than it is able to count. For more information, see www.oxford.gov.uk/streetcount

A rough sleeper can gain a local connection for the adult homeless pathway through regular paid employment in Oxford, close relatives in the city, or by having lived in Oxford as their main home before becoming homeless.

Bed spaces for rough sleepers

This winter, there will be up to 215 bed spaces for rough sleepers in Oxford’s adult homeless pathway, with another 29 beds funded by other Oxfordshire district councils for people with a local connection to their areas.

Outreach and local connection

In 2017/18 OxSPOT helped more than 300 people off the streets of Oxford.

OxSPOT’s success is based on positive engagement with rough sleepers, which can be extensive and involve partnership work with other agencies like the police homeless liaison officer, GPs and mental health services. RSI funding means OxSPOT has recently recruited three extra outreach staff.

OxSPOT helps rough sleepers with no local connection to find the support and accommodation they need in their own areas. In 2017/18, OxSPOT reconnected 19 rough sleepers back to their home areas. Reconnection only occurs with a rough sleeper’s full co-operation.

The RSI-funded rough sleeper hub provides a space for OxSPOT and the council’s Housing Options team to assess and engage with rough sleepers. Other services, including Crisis Skylight and Turning Point, are also meeting rough sleepers at the hub.

Winter provision

During prolonged periods of freezing weather, the council activates its Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP). When SWEP is activated, emergency beds open for any rough sleeper who wants to come inside, whether they have a local connection or not. Any rough sleeper with a dog is offered a free kennel if there is no space available for more dogs at O’Hanlon House.

Prolonged freezing weather in February and March meant that SWEP was activated on 36 nights last winter. A total number of 827 beds were occupied by 141 individuals – the highest level ever.

This winter, the council is increasing core SWEP provision from 40 spaces a night to a peak of 47, with a focus on facilitating enough secure accommodation in the city centre for rough sleepers with high complex needs.