Councils open their first winter shelter for rough sleepers
South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils have offered a local winter shelter for the first time to provide safe emergency accommodation for rough sleepers in South and Vale.
The winter shelter enabled rough sleepers to remain in the local area where they may feel safer and find it easier to maintain their support networks.
The shelter was open for six weeks until the end of February and offered accommodation for up to six people at a time. It also offered them a dedicated housing support officer from the councils, who worked to secure them more permanent housing.
The pilot scheme saw a number of success stories including Joe* who accessed the shelter during its opening week and received intensive support throughout his stay.
It became clear that Joe considered his best opportunity for a stable housing environment would be a move to Kent to stay with relatives. The support worker ensured that suitable accommodation would be available to Joe and he is now receiving support as well as accommodation from his relatives in Kent.
The winter shelter is fully funded from Government grants for the prevention or relief of homelessness. It is run by Homeless Oxfordshire.
The winter shelter has been developed in consultation with partner agencies including the police, fire service and community safety team in Oxfordshire.
The shelter provided emergency accommodation for rough sleepers, however the wider ambition of the councils is to end the need for rough sleeping in the districts through prevention, early intervention and increasing access to sustainable accommodation.
The councils are successfully reducing the number of rough sleepers across both districts. During the annual rough sleeper count that took place nationally in November, the overall numbers in South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse went down from 12 to 7.
The provision of the winter shelter forms part of a developing countywide approach to tackling homelessness. The councils are working together to reduce rough sleeping across the county and help people find the accommodation and support they need to leave homelessness behind.
The pilot project benefited seven rough sleepers and its success means it may be repeated next year if there remains a demand for the service.
South and Vale are planning to publish its new joint Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy in April that provides further details on the councils’ commitment to end rough sleeping.
Cllr Jenny Hannaby, Cabinet Member for Housing and Environment at Vale of White Horse District Council, said: “We are so pleased that the council was able to offer this service – the first time there has been a local shelter for rough sleepers in the South and Vale area. The winter is the toughest time to be on the streets and by giving people somewhere safe and warn to stay even for a short while can help them move to somewhere more permanent, which is a success for the project but more importantly for the individuals themselves.”
Cllr David Rouane, Cabinet Member for Housing and Environment at South Oxfordshire District Council, said: “In southern Oxfordshire we have been very successful in finding accommodation for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. The aim of this shelter is to provide people who find themselves in this situation somewhere to stay and at the same time access to support and services to find permanent accommodation.”
The councils continue to fund supported accommodation in Oxford for rough sleepers from the districts and contributes to the county-wide hostel located at Floyds Row in Oxford.
To find out more about the services available to assist those at risk of homelessness in South Oxfordshire or the Vale of White Horse please visit southoxon.gov.uk/homelessness or whitehorsedc.gov.uk/homelessness.
*Name has been changed
A successful funding bid to Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has secured a contribution of £8,958 towards the cost of the winter shelter. The balance of the funding is from the ring-fenced Flexible Homelessness Support Grant.
Between 2010 and 2018 the number of households in temporary accommodation in England rose by 65 per cent. Over the same period, the number of rough sleepers increased by 165 per cent.
In November 2018, the homelessness charity Shelter estimated that there are at least 320,000 people recorded as homeless in Britain. These figures however do not include the larger number of households referred to as the “hidden homeless”. These households may be living with friends and not have a bedroom, known as “sofa-surfing”, or they may be living in statutory overcrowded or unsatisfactory housing.
The most common reason for homelessness in England is family or friends no longer being willing or able to accommodate. The second most prevalent reason is the termination of a private rented tenancy.