OCF’s Chief Executive Jayne Woodley contributed towards an event run by the Oxford Diocese on Wednesday about homelessness in Thames Valley. Attendees were asked to consider how the church can respond to rising numbers of rough sleepers and soaring rents and house prices.
Jayne was speaking at a day of ‘continuing ministerial development’ for around 40 clergy in the Church of England’s Oxford Diocese, which covers the Thames Valley. Other speakers at the event included Mary Gurr (pictured), Chaplain to the Homeless in the city of Oxford, homeless advocate and campaigner Neo, and representatives from homeless shelters in Bracknell and Reading.
The event follows the publication of the Oxford Diocese’s research report For Richer For Poorer, which highlights the pockets of deprivation that exist across the Thames Valley, and comes as OCF is reflecting on how best to tackle the urgent problem of homelessness in Oxford city.
“It is a disgrace what is happening now,” said Mary Gurr, who had earlier held up a booklet on homelessness, printed in 2015. “Two of the people pictured on the front died at around the age of 47. I know because I did the funerals.”
Neo, who is homeless by choice and is a key figure in the Iffley Open House movement, said: “Open House invited Oxford residents, MPs, and all different people and the response was amazing. We accomplished so much in a short time. If we could do that, what could people in power do?”.
Jayne talked about OCF’s Oxfordshire Uncovered research, which identified homelessness as one of the most acute, distressing and visible problems affecting our area, but one that is also underpinned by a more wide-ranging housing crisis. With housing to buy or rent at its least affordable in Oxford when compared to the rest of the UK, it is no surprise that the loss of a private sector tenancy is now the most common cause of homelessness.
She said: “Across the Thames Valley, the four community foundations of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes and Oxfordshire have an excellent track record of working in partnership, and are always looking to collaborate and to share their knowledge to identify those projects that are delivering the greatest social impact. For me it is exactly this commitment to partnership and collaboration that is the secret ingredient of the community foundation mix, and one that is becoming increasingly relevant as society begins to realise we all share a responsibility to help our communities thrive and to find solutions to the problems we face.”
Jayne has blogged about her reflections from the event an on a national government white paper consultation on homelessness. She argues that focusing attention on a housing ‘market’ overlooks what a home really means to people: safety, hope, and a sense of identity. You can read her blog post here.
The event ended with a Q&A discussion about learnings and next steps. Bethan Willis, Assistant Social Responsibility Adviser at the Diocese of Oxford, commented after the event: “I think the day was a great success with lots of discussion and useful conversation. It seemed like people went away with renewed resolve to begin or continue to work on a range of projects addressing housing and homelessness, so I hope that we will see ongoing benefits from the day.”