In November, Oxford City Council conducted the statutory street count that forms the basis of annual government statistics on rough sleeping in England.
The council and its partners undertaking the count found 45 people sleeping rough in Oxford on the night – a 26 percent decrease from the 61 rough sleepers counted in November 2017, which was the highest number ever recorded in the city.
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 and they are not meant to. They count people seen sleeping rough or bedding down during an overnight window of several hours. Street counts cannot capture common scenarios like known rough sleepers not seen or engaging in night time activity, or people sleeping in tents, stairwells and inaccessible sites.
Alongside the street count, the council also undertook an intelligence-led estimate of the number of rough sleepers in Oxford. Estimates tend to give a higher figure than street counts because they draw upon a wider range of data sources. These include information from the rough sleeping outreach team (OxSPOT), service providers and teams within the council.
The council provides an estimate in addition to street count data in order to make comparisons with the other Oxfordshire districts, which undertake estimates rather than street counts. This is due to the mostly rural nature of the districts. The council and other Oxfordshire districts are in the process of compiling a countywide estimate of rough sleeper numbers, which will be released shortly.
The majority of rough sleepers in Oxford are white male UK nationals aged between 36 and 49 and are sleeping in the city centre.
There was a significant increase in the proportion of female rough sleepers. A quarter (11) were women, compared with under a sixth (10) a year earlier.
Nearly half (20) of those counted had been sleeping rough for less than six months, and 13 of these were returning to rough sleeping. A third (15) were long term rough sleepers who had been sleeping rough for more than six months – most commonly, for between one and five years.
Chronic and entrenched rough sleepers made up nearly a third (13) of people counted, and this group finds it hard to engage with services even with targeted support. Oxford rough sleepers averaged three separate and overlapping support needs, with mental health and an offending history being the most common (28 individuals each).
Two people had accommodation in Oxford but chose to sleep out on the night.
A quarter of those counted (11) had no recourse to public funds – meaning that they cannot claim benefits or housing due to their immigration status – compared to a fifth (11) in November 2017. A similar number had become homeless on release from an institution such as hospital, prison or care, with 10 individuals sleeping rough after eviction from accommodation.
A quarter (11) of rough sleepers had no local connection to Oxfordshire, compared to a third (21) in 2017. Six people had a confirmed local connection to the city of Oxford – a slightly higher proportion (13 percent) than last year (10 percent).
Councillor Linda Smith, Deputy Leader and Board Member for Leisure and Housing, said: “Street counts can only ever offer a partial snapshot, and we know that there are more rough sleepers in Oxford than we are able to count. But street counts are useful because they give us valuable information about trends and the needs of people sleeping rough on our streets.
“November’s street count shows a worrying rise in the proportion of women sleeping rough. It also shows that people with multiple unmet needs find it hard to engage with services and leave the streets behind for good and that many rough sleepers come to our city from outside Oxfordshire. We can also see that people are vulnerable to rough sleeping if they leave institutional care, are evicted or lose their rights to live, work or claim benefits in the UK.
“We have already taken steps towards addressing some of these issues. Temporary funding from the government’s Rough Sleeper Initiative (RSI) means we have opened a new multi-agency hub in the city centre. We’re providing better support to get people off the streets and 41 new RSI beds this winter.
“These beds include women-only accommodation and provision for people with no local connection to Oxford or who no longer can claim benefits or housing. Our Oxfordshire Trailblazer project also means we are already working with our neighbouring districts to prevent homelessness as early as possible for people leaving hospital, care or prison.
“Even with RSI funding and Trailblazer, we need to do more to realise our ambition that nobody should have to sleep rough on the streets of Oxford. Even though it is only a partial picture, street counts give us a consistent way of capturing information which we can use to monitor and plan better services in future.”
More information about how the council conducts street counts is at www.oxford.gov.uk/streetcount
A more detailed report of the November 2018 street count is available by emailing [email protected].