As part of its funding agreement with the government’s Rough Sleeper Initiative (RSI), Oxford City Council is conducting overnight street counts of rough sleepers every two months.
The first RSI street count took place in September, and found 36 people sleeping rough that night.
The majority of rough sleepers in Oxford are white male UK nationals aged between 36 and 49, sleeping in the city centre. A third (12) of those counted had previously been seen sleeping rough in Oxford on at least one occasion during the last five years. Four of the 36 rough sleepers counted were women.
Sleeping rough is dangerous for all, but entrenched rough sleepers – people who have slept rough for more than six months - are more likely to develop additional physical and mental health needs and substance misuse issues, and to have contact with the criminal justice system. A combination of these issues – known as complex needs – can make it harder for rough sleepers to engage with support services and to move on from the streets.
More than two thirds (25) of rough sleepers counted in September had complex needs, with mental health issues being the single biggest support need (20 individuals).
A quarter of those counted (9) had no recourse to public funds, meaning that they cannot claim benefits or housing due to their immigration status. A similar number previously had private rented accommodation, and six had become homeless after eviction by a private landlord.
Five rough sleepers had accommodation in Oxford but were sleeping out on the night.
Street counts provide a snapshot of people who are bedded down or about to bed down on the night of a count. The council conducts them in line with national guidance developed by Homeless Link. Street counts help in measuring trends in the number of people sleeping rough over time.
However, street counts do not give a complete picture of current rough sleepers in Oxford. The council is currently exploring ways in which a more complete picture can be built, drawing on different data sources including data provided by the rough sleeping outreach team, OxSPOT, historical data, and real time information drawn from the council’s OxTHINK (Oxford Tackling Homelessness Information Network) database and from adult homeless pathway service providers.
Before RSI funding, the council conducted quarterly street counts and publicly released the results of the annual national street count. Its decision to release RSI street count results is because of the high level of public concern about rough sleeping in Oxford. The council aims to build a better picture of both numbers and characteristics of people sleeping on the city’s streets.
The next count will be the national street count and estimate in November. The estimate uses a multi-agency approach to gather intelligence and tends to give a higher figure on the number of people sleeping rough in the city. The government uses the results of the November count to compile its annual rough sleeper data, which it normally releases in January.
Councillor Linda Smith, Deputy Leader and Board Member for Leisure and Housing, said: ““The RSI funding we have secured is already making a difference in the level of winter provision we are able to offer this year. This includes opening a new homeless hub in the city centre, the provision of 41 additional beds – including women-only accommodation, and the creation of up to 74 spaces for people with no local connection to Oxford.
“A street count provides a consistent way of capturing information, which we can use to monitor and plan better services. It also gives us a good indication of the trend in the number of people sleeping rough over time. Of course we know that there are more people sleeping rough than we are able to count. For example, we cannot count known rough sleepers who are not bedded down or about to bed down.
“We have to conduct street counts every two months as part of our RSI funding agreement with the government. We don’t have to make the results public. Until now, we have only published the results of the national street count in November. We know that people in Oxford are very concerned about rough sleeping and what the council is doing about it. We want to create a better public understanding about who is rough sleeping and why they are on our streets. This is why we will be releasing the results of the bi-monthly street counts from now on.”
RSI funding 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.
Find out more information about how the council conducts street counts.