Home For All Oxfordshire
On Thursday 29 October, the Crisis Volunteer Fundraising and Campaigns Group in Oxford hosted Home For All Oxfordshire. This webinar event provided an insight into how Crisis a homeless charity has been working in Oxford during the pandemic both on the front line with homeless people and through campaigning. Kate Cocker (Crisis Oxford MD) spoke about how they have been working with St. Mungo’s and the City Council throughout this pandemic to find the homeless appropriate housing and to ensure that they receive support.
Crisis has five definitions for ending homelessness and SCIE’s review takes these as its starting point:
1. No one sleeping rough
2. No one forced to live in transient or dangerous accommodation such as tents, squats and non-residential buildings
3. No one living in emergency accommodation such as shelters and hostels without a plan for rapid rehousing into affordable, secure and decent accommodation
4. No one homeless as a result of leaving a state institution such as prison or the care system
5. Everyone at immediate risk of homelessness gets the help they need that prevents it happening.
The assessment has addressed a number of issues including looking the evidence base for what services are effective in addressing, reducing or preventing people from becoming homeless.
The numbers of individuals who are rough sleeping or otherwise without secure accommodation is increasing at an alarmingly rapid rate. Oxford has various support services running in Oxford and agencies that seek to provide support to these individuals, but they simply have not got sufficient resources to cope with many people who have fallen through the gaps or struggle to engage with a standardized approach. Recently Oxford has been award over a million pound by the Government to tackle the homelessness and the council has found a total of 203 people homes in hotel and student rooms. Of these, 76 have been supported into more permanent housing.
Anneliese Dobbs (MP) spoke on the webinar about the continuing under-funding of the local authority, benefit system and towards ending homelessness throughout our country. The pandemic has had a severe financial impact on people who face losing their homes when the no eviction ban is lifted or that the benefits that they receive doesn’t even cover the basics. Anneliese describe the lack of public funding from the government, towards local services as a national shame, and that those on low incomes, families and the elderly are being the worst hit. A review of the benefit system and social care is needed if we are to support those who are most vulnerable in our society.
Paul, a member of Crisis with lived experiences, talked about his experiences working with Crisis and other support services and how since the pandemic he has been found accommodation. It was interesting to hear his story, how Crisis has given him hope and that the support that he receives has given him a better future.
The current Covid-19 crisis has laid bare the urgent need to address the homelessness problems in Oxford and there clearly needs to be more work done around support services and local connections to help those who need housing. Homemaker Oxford is looking at creative and community led solutions to Oxfords housing problems. Driven by the dual issues of a rise in homelessness and the prevalence of empty and underused space in Oxford, Homemaker Oxford set out to explore how such spaces might be put to good use providing housing for people without a home. This is being done by focussing on the complex and stubborn gap created by a lack of social housing, expensive private rents, and the rising number of people who are homeless. Their work uses design research and rapid prototyping alongside their knowledge of community-led housing to populate this gap with truly affordable, locally rooted, and well-designed homes.
Those of you who are on the Tenant Involvement Panel in Oxford may have received an invite to contact Lucy at Transition by Design, to see if you would like to join them on the Homemaker Oxford project, and to help support the valuable and important work that they are carrying out. Because of my own lived experiences of homelessness, substance misuse and mental health issues I could clearly understand the approach that Lucy is taking to improve the lives of those who are homeless. With the help of Simon House (homeless hostel) and local support services, I was able to turn my life around and find a permanent home to live. Though I still struggle with mental health issues, I have managed to use my experiences to help others who face similar struggles in life and to work with them to help build better and more efficient services in Oxford.
This pandemic crisis has laid bare the urgent need to address the homelessness problems in Oxford and there clearly needs to be more work done around support services and local connections to help those who need housing. Homelessness in Oxford has been an issue for many years and despite the support services available the issue is still prevalent in our city. The approach of Homemaker Oxford uses is collaboration, co-production, and research to ascertain the local need to address homelessness in Oxford.
Their primary purpose is to alleviate the misery of homelessness by offering ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can find a warm welcome and access personalised assistance to help address their needs and aspirations in accordance with their own readiness.
Adapting and aligning services to local settings and need is paramount, and developing and providing a range of person-centred responses that are geared to and reflect the personal circumstances of people, particularly with regards to their journey out of homelessness is essential. What is fundamentally important is that we dispel the myth of one approach fits all to local services and housing. We need to acknowledge that people from the BAME and LGBT community, or who are disabled, or refugees and the elderly all need individual and tailored support to meet their needs. Unless we do something now and enact long-term as well as short-term solutions, this progress will slip, and risks being undone.
There are several causes to homelessness and separate difficulties that they face daily.
The primary causes of homelessness are:
Family and relationship breakdown
Substance misuse and alcoholism
Lack of affordable/social housing
Violence or abuse.
The social stigma towards homelessness can be addressed through educational awareness campaigns and involving the public to work co-productively with support services. It is also essential that the government does their part and sets up a homelessness watchdog to ensure that support services and charities that work with the homeless community receive the resources and funding that is much needed. By identifying the primary causes of homelessness, we can develop the essential services to meet the individual’s need and to work with them to find a safe and effective approach out of homelessness.
It is important to recognise that some within the homeless community don’t want to engage with support services or go into accommodation allocated by either the council or support services like St. Mungo’s and that we need to accept there are cases where an individuals circumstances may be led by peer pressure.
Peer pressure and social stigma can be a driving force behind what keeps people on the street and the lack of social initiative co-operation makes reaching the most difficult cases harder. Homelessness is not a lifestyle choice, one does not wake up and say, I want to be homeless.
Various degree and combination of circumstances leads to homelessness and by understanding the triggers behind a person’s way of life you can identify what led them to the situation that they are in. Some turn to crime to feed a need, or they may turn to other recourse to see them through the day as they don’t see any other way out of their circumstances.
I believe that the Homemaker Oxford approach of understanding what the driving factors are that contributed to a person’s homelessness and the daily struggles that they face is important to ascertain how best they can help the individual.
Local homelessness services in Oxford is better than many parts of the country but despite what is available the issue still persists. We need to engage all the services and charities together and to work towards a common approach to tackle homelessness instead of services working as individuals. This approach of tailoring services to meet an individual’s need is paramount to ensure that we address what is best for that person. The most urgent factor to address is the lack of appropriate move on accommodation, accommodation that suites the individual’s need. There may be challenges around adequate funding for people with complex needs such as a substance misuse or mental and physical health issues.
People with complex needs can be more difficult to engage with in terms of assessing needs and providing flexible, responsive, and sustained expert-led person-centred support.
Though Oxford has many support services for the homeless the resource level means that some people are unable to get the support straight away. There are also challenges regarding access to housing in the local market and a lack of data and monitoring to inform service design. The focus to solve this problem should involve and engage people with lived experience of homelessness, and the wider community, in service design and to utilise local companies to provide employment and training to help the homeless back into work. We need to utilise the local resources that we already have in a more efficient and productive way and to adequately resource services with the funding that is required.
Through several funding initiatives the Oxford City Council has managed to develop the old DSS building on Floyds Row in a homeless assessment centre run by St. Mongo’s. The council has paid for 124 rooms in different buildings across the city which it is using to house people who had previously been sleeping on the streets. With recent government funding of around one million pounds, the city council has paid for rooms in an Oxford Brookes hall of residence at Canterbury House on Cowley Road until July 2021. This is topped with an extended agreement with the Youth Hostel Association on Botley Road until March next year. In total, 124 places have been found to house the homeless, plus a further 76 people have been supported into more permanent housing.
This improvement in the number of places available for homeless accommodation is on top of places at the Night Shelter on Luther Street and Matilda House in Cowley. Different forms of move on accommodation needs to be explored and the scope of providing appropriate housing needs to be wide to ensure that it is suited to everyone’s needs.
At a recent Housing and Homelessness Strategy meeting I asked if any of the latest MHCLG bidding was for specific support (such as for drugs/alcohol/ mental health). The latest funding is not specific to any type of specialist support. However, there is a separate Substance Misuse bid that Public Health submitted in October, which the City Council supported hopefully will see close to £500k of funding come into Oxford for this over the next two years.
This latest funding application, if successful, will help to build on the services available but it is vitally important that a cost benefit analysis is sort to ensure that the money goes to the services that have a proven record of reducing homelessness and addressing the support needs of the individual.