A cross-party group of Oxford City Councillors have completed their review of a key homelessness policy, and are preparing to make recommendations to council decision makers.
At present, people who are homeless and have a local connection to Oxford can access the Adult Homeless Pathway, which provides supported accommodation services and help for people to find long term housing solutions. They are also able to access the social housing register. However, based on the street count conducted in 2017, the majority of people sleeping rough on the streets of Oxford had no known connection to the City (69%).
To explore this issue, the No Local Connection Review Group was commissioned by Oxford City Council’s Scrutiny Committee to carry out an in depth research project and develop recommendations that, if agreed, could improve outcomes for people with no local connection and help to reduce the numbers of people sleeping rough in the City.
As part of a network of services commissioned by the City Council, people with no local connection are able to make use of the Street Outreach service, day centres and employment and support services. In addition, up to 74 places will be available this winter for rough sleepers without an Oxford local connection, funded through money secured by the City Council from the Government’s Rough Sleeping Initiative and by partners including the Oxford churches.
The Review Group spoke to numerous people experiencing homelessness in the City, and a variety of local and national experts and service providers. Contributors to the review asked for the local connection criteria to give a wider account of what it means to have a local connection to Oxford. In response, the Review Group are making a number or recommendations aimed at broadening these criteria, for example to include people who were born in the City and people with wider family connections in the City.
Councillors will recommend that time spent in institutions such as prison, hospital or rehab should not affect a person’s eligibility for assistance, and propose the establishment of lifelong local connections; where any period of absence from the City would not invalidate a former resident’s eligibility for assistance. This would help people returning to the City after a relationship breakdown, for example. Recommendations are also being made to clarify and promote the Council’s approach to offering discretionary support to the most vulnerable people, regardless of whether they have a local connection.
Councillor Nadine Bely-Summers, Chair of the No Local Connection Review Group, said:
“Oxford has borne witness to an increasing number of people sleeping rough on its streets, and the misery it has caused for our most vulnerable citizens throughout a long and harsh winter. Many of the people who endured those conditions from last year through until today are still not recognised as having a local connection, and therefore cannot access the Adult Homeless Pathway. These recommendations propose steps for improving the outcomes for those people in particular.”
Councillor Linda Smith, Deputy Leader and Board Member for Leisure and Housing, said:
“I welcome this detailed piece of work on the issue of No Local Connection and we will be considering its findings in detail with a view to improving our policies and practice in this area. With new funding secured from Government this winter we are already able to offer significantly more support for rough sleepers with no Oxford local connection than in previous years, and we are seeking further resources which I hope will enable us to do even more next winter.
“Nevertheless, it is important to recognise that we are treating the symptoms, not the causes of homelessness. The tragic increase in homelessness and rough sleeping is a result of Government failures including Local Housing Allowance rates that don’t cover rents here, Universal Credit implementation that is leaving some people without, a broken housing market, cuts in mental health services, a lack of access to rehab facilities and underfunding of the social care system. Until these issues are addressed by the Government, Oxford City Council will continue to do as much as we can with the limited resources available to help people off the streets, get their lives back on track and work towards our ambition of no one having to sleep rough on the streets of Oxford.”
The Review Group’s report makes a total of 25 Recommendations which will first be presented to the Scrutiny Committee for endorsement on 6 November, and subsequently to the Council’s decision making body, the City Executive Board for its consideration and response on 14 November. Both meetings are open to the public, and registrations to speak must be received two clear working days before each meeting. Download the first draft of the Review Group’s report.