Oxford City Council has applied for planning permission to enable it to develop a new homeless assessment hub and provide winterlong emergency accommodation open to all rough sleepers.
The council is seeking a change of use for the former jobcentre at 1 Floyds Row so it can establish a daytime support and assessment centre for rough sleepers and people at risk of homelessness – providing support with drug, alcohol and housing issues. The centre would also include emergency and short term accommodation for up to 60 rough sleepers during winter months.
Councillors have said they want to provide an emergency shelter for anyone sleeping rough next winter – including people with no local connection to Oxford or without recourse to public funds. The council is seeking government funding to allow it to deliver the new assessment service. Options for other services provided from the new centre depend on the level of funding the council can secure.
The council intends to refurbish the Floyds Row building – which it owns and has been empty since November 2017 – in order to open in autumn 2019.
The new centre will form an important part of the council’s wider plans to reshape services in order to meet its ambition that nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford.
The council has already won more than £1 million in temporary Rough Sleeper Initiative (RSI) funding to provide extra beds and services this winter and next. RSI funded services include a multi-agency hub enabling better assessment and engagement with rough sleepers, dedicated pre-recovery and women-only housing projects, and winter provision for people with no local connection or recourse to public funds.
Building on the experience of RSI services and the Oxfordshire Trailblazer homelessness prevention project, the council aims to provide personalised housing plans for all rough sleepers and people at risk of rough sleeping.
Opening services to people without a local connection or recourse to public funds will require a wider range of move on options – including homes at social rent with floating support in place, and better provision for women and people with drug and alcohol issues. This will also require substantial additional funding.
The council also aims to provide better support for people as they move from the street to long term and sustainable housing. This includes navigators for chronic and entrenched rough sleepers and floating support to allow people to sustain their tenancies.
Delivering the new support and assessment centre would mean some changes to existing commissioned services, which the council is discussing with providers.
To finance the new centre and the remodelling of its adult homeless pathway, the council is seeking funding from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government through its Rapid Rehousing Pathway and Private Rented Sector Access funds.
Councillor Linda Smith, Deputy Leader of Oxford City Council and Board Member for Leisure and Housing, said: “Nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford, and the new centre is an important part of our plans to realise this goal. Next winter, we are planning to provide winterlong accommodation for all rough sleepers rather than relying on temporary emergency beds that we now activate during sustained periods of freezing weather.
“But our plans are far more ambitious than that. If we can secure funding – from the government or elsewhere – we hope to provide a new approach to engaging with, assessing and supporting rough sleepers off the streets. We want to offer a safe place to stay for up to 60 people. Just as importantly, we also want to provide a wider range of move on accommodation and more joined up support for people as they move from the streets to long term and sustainable housing.
“Homelessness is a national crisis. Sadly, it’s all too evident on the streets of Oxford. While we’re already providing up to 212 beds this winter we need to do more to realise our ambition to end rough sleeping.”
Details of the planning application will soon be on the council’s website under the reference 19/00128/CT3.