Since the Government’s ‘everyone in’ initiative in response to COVID-19, partners in Oxfordshire Homeless Movement have worked tirelessly to keep people off the streets. Oxford City Council and partners have now helped more than 250 former rough sleepers into settled housing since the outbreak of the pandemic.
As England went into lockdown in March 2020 the government called on councils to get ‘everyone in’ by providing emergency accommodation for everybody experiencing rough sleeping and living in shared hostels. In Oxford, 355 people were housed under the ‘everyone in’ initiative.
While ‘everyone in’ initially involved offering people rooms in hotels and student blocks, last summer Oxford City Council consolidated this patchwork of emergency provision into two main locations offering interim housing – a bridge between emergency lockdown arrangements and more sustainable housing. With the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and the ending of leases for interim housing, the council and local homelessness charities are now focused on supporting people into more sustainable housing and preventing their return to the streets. This has been the shared focus of partners in Oxfordshire Homeless Movement since the pandemic started.
St Mungo’s provides homelessness services for the council and so far has supported 261 people into a more settled home. Many people who have experienced rough sleeping have multiple unmet needs that can include substance dependencies, mental health needs and trauma, including the experience of domestic abuse. Without the right support, these can cause people to return to the streets even after being housed. St Mungo’s provides intensive support and identify the right move-on options for people. As a result, the overwhelming majority of people (232) have remained positively housed after moving on from ‘everyone in’.
Nearly two thirds (153 people) of those moving on have found more settled housing in the private rented sector or through housing services in Oxford’s adult homeless pathway. Another 33 people are now living in supported accommodation, which includes Aspire’s Becket Street project, Edge Housing and Emmaus. Other destinations include a return to living with family or friends, rehab and social housing.
Restrictions on claiming benefits and housing for people whose immigration status means they have no recourse to public funds (NRPF) are now back in force. An Oxfordshire Homeless Movement project has raised funds to provide housing for this group, and is working with three delivery partners to house and support them. The NRPF project has now housed nine people. The aim is to enable this group of people to become self-sufficient, contributing members of society.
Canterbury House closed at the beginning of August, with 11 of its original 76 residents now in hotels while St Mungo’s works with them to find a suitable move-on offer. The council and St Mungo’s are planning to move people on from the YHA, which currently has 38 residents and is available until December. On 20 August there were 23 people experiencing rough sleeping in Oxford, and the aim now is to ensure that there is accommodation available on an ongoing basis for people to access directly from the street.
District, city and county councils across Oxfordshire are therefore working together to develop a system-wide approach to tackling homelessness based on a ‘housing-led’ approach. In the UK, homeless people have generally moved from the streets to independent living in stages. Housing-led approaches instead say that people should be offered permanent housing immediately and without preconditions like engaging with treatment services. The partners are aiming for this to be the default response to ending rough sleeping in Oxfordshire from April 2022.
Jane Cranston, chair of Oxfordshire Homeless Movement, said: “Oxfordshire Homeless Movement has been delighted to be able to play our part in what has been an amazing effort by all partners. During recent difficult months the city and county councils, together with Oxford charities both large and small, have proved time and again the advantages of partnership working. Oxfordshire Homeless Movement’s role in ‘filling gaps’ has been much appreciated by all.”
Matt Rudd, St Mungo’s regional head, said: “There is still important work to be done, and unfortunately we are seeing a daily increase in the number of people rough sleeping in Oxford. Despite the collective hard work of St Mungo’s and our many partner agencies the underlying reasons for homelessness don’t simply just go away, which is why we are supporting the work of the Kerslake Commission and urge the Government to implement its recommendations.”
Councillor Diko Blackings, cabinet member for affordable housing, housing security and housing the homeless, said: “Everyone in showed that our ambition for nobody to have to sleep rough in Oxford is achievable. It has been a phenomenal achievement during some very dark days and we remain committed to offering support to people arriving on or returning to our streets even as we begin to emerge from the pandemic.”