Decision Maker Response

Oxford City Council’s response

Jan 3, 2018 — Thank you for caring about Oxford’s homeless and rough sleepers. We are deeply touched that so many of you have shown your concern for the effects of the national homelessness crisis that is playing out in a large number of UK cities, including Oxford.

If you don’t read any further than this, please consider doing something more to help the situation. Please give your time or money to support the rough sleepers and homeless in Oxford. There is a list of 12 ways you can help now at the end of this document.

Oxford City Council takes the issue of rough sleeping extremely seriously, and this document will take you through the range of work we do to help tackle the issue. Over the last two years we have:
• Maintained our £1.4m of annual grants to Oxford’s homeless charities, funding a wide range of support services and accommodation, with a proposal to increase this by £200,000 in 19/20 onwards
• Committed £1.5m to keep the Simon House hostel open in the face of closure and build a brand new facility for rough sleepers with complex needs in Cowley, Oxford
• Secured £790,000 of Government funding to help vulnerable single adults under the age of 35, and households, at risk of homelessness
• Allocated £15m to buy homes for otherwise homeless Oxford families. In the 2018/19 budget, we are proposing to add a further £5m to this fund
• Alongside partners, prevented 1,107 households from becoming homeless in 2016/17

Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP)

Oxford City Council funds the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP), which provides emergency accommodation to everyone who needs it when the temperature is forecast to fall to 0°C or below for three consecutive nights. Oxford City Council is by far the largest provider of SWEP provision in Oxfordshire. There is no legal requirement to operate the SWEP but the City Council believes that it has a humanitarian responsibility in the face of the scale of rough sleeping in the city.

Although funded by the City Council, the SWEP is operated by experienced, professional staff at St Mungo’s Outreach, the Porch, O’Hanlon House and Simon House. Whenever SWEP opens these employees step up from their core duties to carry out the extra hours of work required. Operating the service more frequently, without negatively impacting our core services for rough sleepers, would require a substantial and continuous increase in staffing levels – significantly increasing the cost. To fund this would require additional increases in Council Tax or cuts to other services.

We increased SWEP services this year by opening for seven nights over the Christmas and New Year period, and no one was turned away because of a lack of space. On some nights as few as five people used the service. With the current level of SWEP provision and the City Council's agreement with churches in Oxford to open 10 new beds every night between January and March as part of their Oxford Winter Night Shelter (OWNS) initiative, we believe that there is enough support to help all those rough sleepers who wish to get off the streets and access accommodation.

About homelessness in Oxford

Homelessness in Oxford takes many forms: from the visible rough sleepers on our streets, to the invisible families that have fallen on hard times. People who experience homelessness are often affected by a wide range of issues, including relationship breakup, domestic violence, debt, mental health issues, drug and alcohol issues, and changes to benefits.

Over recent years the Government has cut its £9m annual grant to Oxford City Council to nothing. Despite this challenging financial situation, the City Council is doing its best to support everyone who is at risk of or becomes homeless. This document outlines some of the City Council’s work.

Homeless families

In 2015, Oxford City Council partnered with Resonance Real Lettings property fund, with both organisations contributing £5m to purchase houses in or near Oxford for local families that would otherwise be homeless. The partnership includes homelessness charity St Mungo’s Broadway, which manages the properties, provides support services and arranges moves on to sustainable accommodation. In 2016, the City Council contributed a further £10m for temporary accommodation purchase, and, in the draft budget for 2018/19, the City Council is proposing to commit a further £5m.

As part of this programme, the City Council is using compulsory purchase powers to buy empty Oxford homes for otherwise homeless Oxford families. The City Council is currently compulsorily purchasing a property in Rose Hill, which has stood empty since 1989, for this purpose.

However, the City Council’s work to prevent Oxford families from becoming homeless goes far beyond just buying houses, and includes:
• A £50,000 emergency fund to help new Universal Credit claimants. New claimants have to wait at least six weeks before they get their first full payment of Universal Credit (changing to five weeks in February 2018); the fund aims to help with their utilities, food and essential living costs during that wait
• Supporting households affected by the benefit cap, bedroom tax and other cuts to their housing benefit with discretionary housing payments (DHPs). In 2017/18, we have a £509,495 DHP grant from the Department for Work and Pensions, which we use to top up rent shortfalls while customers work with our Welfare Reform Team to improve their financial circumstances and sustain their tenancies
• A pilot Rent Guarantee Scheme, helping families threatened with homelessness into private tenancies by offering guaranteed rent and tenancy management support to landlords while we work with their tenants to improve their financial situation
• As part of the City Council’s £1.4m annual grants programme, giving £518,379 in 2016/17 to organisations that provide advice and money-management support, including £200,000 to Oxford Citizens Advice Bureau, £85,290 to the Agnes Smith Advice Centre, and £122,611 to Oxford Community Work Agency
• As part of the same annual grants programme, in 2016/17 giving £35,082 to A2 Dominion to support those experiencing domestic abuse, £15,000 to Oxford Sexual Abuse & Rape Crisis Centre, and £1,000 to Reducing the Risk of Domestic Abuse
• Retaining more than 7,800 council houses to provide affordable homes to Oxford families, and building and purchasing hundreds of new council houses across Oxford, including 354 as part of the Barton Park housing development

In 2004, the number of otherwise homeless Oxford families in temporary accommodation (i.e. hotels or B&Bs) stood at 1,000. But, thanks to all this work, the number in August 2017 was just 87 – down from 96 in March 2017. This stands in sharp contrast to the national trend, which has seen a 60% increase in the number of households in temporary accommodation since March 2011.

In 2016/17, Oxford City Council and its partners prevented 1,107 households from becoming homeless. And the City Council has now almost abandoned the use of hotels and B&Bs to house otherwise homeless Oxford families. Of the 96 households in temporary accommodation in March 2017, none were in hotels or B&Bs.

But the pressure on families in Oxford is increasing. More than 100 households every month are now approaching the City Council as homeless and requesting assistance.

Rough sleepers

Beds and services for rough sleepers in Oxford used to be largely funded through £1.4m of grants from Oxford City Council and £2m of grants from Oxfordshire County Council. Regrettably, due to a huge reduction in the amount of money it receives from central Government, Oxfordshire County Council has decided, from April 2018, to reduce its funding of homelessness services to zero.

At the same time, the number of people sleeping rough in Oxford is increasing. The official street count, which is carried out by every district in the country, revealed that 61 people were sleeping rough in Oxford – a dramatic increase from the 33 in 2016. But the City Council and homeless organisations estimate the number could be as many as 89 people – up from 47 in 2016.

Oxford City Council funds and provides a wide range of support services and accommodation for Oxford’s rough sleepers. The focus over the last year has been to mitigate the impact of Oxfordshire County Council’s funding cuts. But it is important to note that Oxford City Council does not have a statutory duty to provide this funding or these services. However, we see it as our humanitarian responsibility to help.

More beds and a new shelter

Simon House, a hostel in Oxford that helps rough sleepers with complex needs, was due to close in March 2018 as a direct result of Oxfordshire County Council’s funding cuts. However, Oxford City Council has provided the hostel with £200,000 of funding to keep 22 of the beds open until April 2019 to allow time for a new facility to be built at another location in the City.

The City Council has also provided £1.1m to enable A2Dominion, the leaseholder and support provider at Simon House, to build bespoke supported accommodation next to the John Allen Centre in Cowley. The new facility will provide 22 units of complex needs accommodation with staff on-site 24 hours a day, with a further 15 units of move-on accommodation for people with low support needs as they move towards independent living. Work is due to start on the new facility in the spring of 2018, subject to planning approval.

The City Council has also provided an additional £160,000 to Response Housing and Oxford Homeless Pathways. This money will be used to double the number of beds at the Acacia housing project from five to 10 in the next two years. The Acacia project, which is based on the US Housing First model, has proved successful at resettling people whose multiple and complex needs make it difficult for them to manage in other types of supported housing.

Grants to homelessness organisations

Every year Oxford City Council provides £1.4m of grants to Oxford’s homelessness organisations to fund a wide range of support services. Much of these support services are targeted at early intervention to stop people from becoming homeless.

Funding targeted at helping existing rough sleepers aims to support them through what is known as the homeless pathway. This is the path from sleeping on the streets; through hostels and supported accommodation; with support services to help with employment, training, or any substance abuse or mental health issues; and finally to helping people into permanent accommodation and work.

In 2016/17 the grants, totalling £1,385,214, funded the following organisations:

Supported accommodation:
• Housing First, Julian Housing: £47,850
Funding for one full time (FTE) support worker and 0.5 FTE peer support worker for this specialist housing project. The project offers an alternative supported housing model – five units – for rough sleepers entrenched in homelessness.
• O’Hanlon House: £54,903
Funding to provide 10 additional spaces to manage the high number of rough sleepers.
• Dispersed supported accommodation: £150,000
Forty units of supported accommodation for rough sleepers/single homeless with a connection to Oxford. The Provision is for medium- to low-support needs, with a focus on support to enable residents to move on to and sustain independent accommodation.

Tackling Rough Sleeping:
• Street Population Outreach Team, St Mungo’s: £350,893
Funding a team of nine FTE. The team delivers assertive outreach, reconnection, personalisation and advice services for rough sleepers/single homeless. It assists rough sleepers to access suitable accommodation and support – in Oxford, Oxfordshire or elsewhere – with the aim to reduce the number of individuals spending a second night on the streets, living on the streets and returning to the streets.
• Severe Weather Emergency Provision: £25,000
Funding to provide emergency beds in periods of severe weather to all rough sleepers.
• Specialist Homelessness Liaison Officer/Service, Thames Valley Police: £40,000
Funding for TVP City Centre Unit to provide targeted support to reduce rough sleeping. TVP City Centre Unit has a dedicated police constable for the purpose of this work.
• Day Services for rough sleepers, O’Hanlon House: £82,778
Provision of day services – showers and laundry facilities, as well as breakfast and lunch and any other activities taking place – for individuals rough sleeping in Oxford and working with outreach services to access suitable accommodation.
• City Centre Ambassadors, Oxford City Council: £10,000
Part of the City Centre Ambassadors’ work includes engaging with homeless people and referring them into the appropriate support services.

Preventing homelessness:
• Preventing Homelessness Tenancy Sustainment Officer, Elmore Community Services: £35,630
Funding for one FTE specialist sustainment officer to support residents in Oxford City Council accommodation to maintain their tenancies.
• Pre-Tenancy Training Course, Connection Support: £16,000
Funding to provide courses to help 50 people develop a range of skills that will enable them to become tenancy ready.
• Welfare Reform Team, Oxford City Council: £80,000
Funding contributes towards the work of the team focussing mitigating the impact of welfare reform across the City.
• Target Hardening/Sanctuary Scheme, Oxford City Council: £30,000
Funding provided for a post in the Anti-Social Behaviour Team to support victims of domestic abuse and enable them to stay in their own homes.

Access to Health and Social Care:
• Mental Health Practitioner, Luther Street Medical Centre: £25,000
Funding to contribute towards one FTE Mental Health Practitioner in order to providing the outreach team with specialist mental health support and intervention when supporting rough sleepers.

Tackling Worklessness and Improving Positive Activities:
• Education, training and employment workers, Aspire: £77,623
Funding for two FTE Education, Training and Employment workers to provide training and employment opportunities for homeless and/or vulnerably housed individuals in Oxford.
• Emmaus Community Oxford: £15,000
Core funding for Emmaus to provide accommodation in their community and work opportunities in their second-hand furniture social enterprise.
• Day Centre, The Porch: £55,000
Core funding for The Porch (formerly known as Steppin’ Stone) daycentre to support rough sleepers and those vulnerably housed through a range of activities, training and education and where appropriate sign post clients to more appropriate services.
• Service Broker, The Big Issue Foundation: £25,000
Funding for one FTE to support Big Issue sellers into accommodation and into sustainable work opportunities.
• Gatehouse Café: £5,580
Core funding for the Gatehouse café to support and engage hard-to-reach clients to access accommodation and specialist support.

Priority services for Young People:
• Young People’s Pathway, Oxfordshire County Council: £42,992
This grant is part of Oxford City Council’s contribution to joint commissioning of the Young Person’s Pathway.
• Emergency Bed for Oxford city, Oxfordshire County Council: £6,134
Funding provides one emergency bed within the Young Person’s pathway for use by Oxford city.

Other:
• Single Homelessness Team, Oxford City Council: £120,000
Funding contribution towards the Council’s Rough Sleeping and Single Homelessness Team.
• Private Rented Move-on assistance: £15,000
Funding to enable access to private rented accommodation for individuals moving on from the adult homeless pathway. Funds will assist with deposit and accessible for individuals with a connection to the City.
• Oxford CHAIN database, Real Systems: £4,000
Core funding to maintain web-based database management system that collates data and provides monitoring reports on rough sleeping.
• In-year commissioning: £70,831
Funding has been put aside in order for officers to respond to unmet need by commissioning services addressing emerging service gaps.

The City Council, in its draft budget, has proposed increasing the £1.4m of annual grants to homelessness organisations by £200,000 every year from 2019/20.

Trailblazer funding

In December 2016, Oxford City Council, along with Oxfordshire’s district councils, won £790,000 of Government funding (known as the Oxfordshire Trailblazer bid) to help vulnerable single adults under the age of 35, and households, at risk of homelessness.

For each at-risk individual, the money is being used to understand what services they need and what works best for them to stop them from becoming homeless. The work is focussing on three areas:
• Targeted prevention and outreach work: Officers from across the city and district councils actively seeking out those who may be at risk, and working with them to understand what could cause them to become homeless
• Resilience Services: Providing a range of services, including financial and employment advice and mentoring, to encourage behavioural change
• Homeless Champions Network: Homeless champions to work with key services, including health services and criminal justice, to assess individuals and help plan their discharge

The joint bid, led by Oxford City Council, was to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) £50m programme to prevent homelessness. The funding will be split over 2017/18 and 2018/19 (£395,000 each year).

City Conversation

In November 2017, more than 100 stakeholders came together to discuss rough sleeping and homelessness in Oxford. The City Conversation, organised by Oxford City Council, included representatives from Oxfordshire’s homelessness organisations; health and mental health providers; faith groups; councils, the police and other public bodies; local councillors; and people with actual experience of rough sleeping.

The aim of the City Conversation, which was the largest conversation of its kind to take place in Oxford, was to start to find a common understanding of what causes rough sleeping and street homelessness in Oxford, and to find the means to tackle the issue collectively. This will include consideration of any need for changes to SWEP

The first conversation saw a number of core principles and possible objectives going forward agreed between the 100 delegates. Going forwards, the stakeholders will work towards agreeing a Rough Sleeping Charter for Oxford by April 2018, which will provide guiding principles for all concerned to help address the issue.

You can read more about the City Conversation by visiting: https://www.oxford.gov.uk/news/article/604/rough_sleeping_the_city_conversation.

Church support this winter

Churches across Oxford will be opening their doors during January, February and March 2018 to provide emergency accommodation for the city’s rough sleepers.

The seven churches – St Aldate’s, St Alban’s, St Clement’s, St Columba’s, St Ebbe’s, St Michael and the Northgate and Wesley Memorial – will each open their doors on a different night of the week.

The scheme will provide up to 10 beds for Oxford’s rough sleepers on a first come, first serve basis.

For more information and to donate to the project, please visit: http://oxfordanglican.co.uk/oxford-churches-team-up-to-offer-emergency-night-shelter/.

Ways you can help

There are lots of ways you can help rough sleepers or homeless people in Oxford. Here are just 12:

1. Donate money to the Oxford Homeless Medical Fund instead of giving money to people begging in Oxford: www.oxhop.org.uk/services/medicalfund/.

The Oxford Homeless Medical Fund supports welfare, educational and medical services for homeless people in Oxford. The fund’s primary beneficiary is Luther Street Medical Centre, a GP surgery in Oxford for rough sleepers and single homeless people.

2. The simplest way to support Oxford Poverty Action is to make a donation: www.oxpat.org.

All donations are distributed via agencies working with homeless and vulnerable people, for example those that provide shelter, food, day services, clothing advice and medical care to people in need.

3. Join Oxford SPOT as a volunteer and go on early morning and late night outreach in the city, assisting rough sleepers off the streets: https://www.mungos.org/our-services/outreach-teams/.

Oxford Street Population Outreach Team is a consistent presence on the streets of Oxford. The team work early morning and late nights across the whole City, in order to make contact with rough sleepers, assist in finding suitable housing options and link in with support.

4. Buy The Big Issue from a vendor wearing a red tabard and a badge: www.bigissue.org.uk.

The Big Issue represents a meaningful alternative to begging. Big Issue vendors buy the magazine for £1.25 and sell it to the public, for £2.50. This is a real opportunity to start to earn money and is a vital first step for a person as they begin their journey away from homelessness.

5. Have lunch at the Crisis Skylight Café: https://www.crisis.org.uk/get-involved/cafe-from-crisis/oxford/.

Great food and drinks in George Street, in the heart of Oxford. The café is a social enterprise that provides on-the-job training for people experiencing homelessness. While you are there, ask staff for opportunities for you to volunteer.

6. Donate warm winter clothes, sleeping bags and toiletries to O’Hanlon House: www.oxhop.org.uk/services/ohanlonhouse/.

O’Hanlon House is one of the homeless hostels in Oxford. O’Hanlon House, together with Oxford SPOT, also co-ordinates and provides emergency provision for rough sleepers in severe winter weather and your donations will help them continue to do this.

7. Give your unwanted furniture to Emmaus Oxford, visit the store at Barns Road and buy quality second hand items: https://www.emmaus.org.uk/oxford

Emmaus Oxford store on Barns Road sells second hand goods and furniture at very good prices. The store is run by the companions of Emmaus Oxford. Emmaus tackles problems of homelessness by offering a home, a job, new skills and a sense of belonging.

8. Buy gifts at the Shop at the Old Fire Station: https://oldfirestation.org.uk/shop-cafe/shop/.

Independent handcrafted good including jewellery, textiles, stationary and more. Money from purchases goes back into funding Arts at the Old Fire Station’s work with homelessness charity Crisis, offering training and volunteering opportunities. Open Tue – Sat 11am – 6pm.

9. Volunteer your time or donate funds and goods to The Porch Day Centre: www.theporch.org.uk.

The Porch is a day centre based in East Oxford, providing company, support, food, shower and laundry facilities to people who have experienced homelessness and those who are vulnerably housed. They promote a range of activities and you can help by volunteering: help in the kitchen, making preserves, working on allotments, helping with IT and office skills, and talking to and befriending members.

10. Contract Aspire to do work for your organisation or business: www.aspireoxford.co.uk.

Offer work and training opportunities and training through own social enterprises to those who have experienced disadvantage and who may be facing complex barriers to employment. Services offered include grounds maintenance, recruitment, property services and removals.

11. Donate cash, food, clothes, or volunteer with Gatehouse: www.oxfordgatehouse.org

Gatehouse is a local charity that provides food, company and activities. Based in the city centre and open two hours six evenings per week.

12. Volunteer with Connection Support or donate cash by texting CNFS15 £10 (£1 to £5 or £10) to 70070 and make a difference today: http://www.connectionsupport.org.uk/oxfordshire/.

Connection Support Provides a breadth of specialised support services to people facing complex life challenges, including ‘floating support’ and provision of supported accommodation for rough sleepers and single homeless people.