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Source: City of Oxford

Oxford City Council and Aspire have been awarded nearly £1 million in long term government funding to help ensure no return to the streets for vulnerable homeless people.

In September the council and Aspire were awarded £1m from the Next Steps Accommodation Programme (NSAP) to help provide services during 2020/21. Now the NSAP has agreed a further £967,901 in long-term funding that will be split three ways:

  • £251,400 will pay for three years’ support costs in properties that Aspire are refurbishing for occupation by former rough sleepers. These include a women-only property and a COVID-secure winter shelter
  • £150,000 will help the council to buy five one-bedroom properties as part of a programme to deliver 20 Housing First homes by March 2021
  • £566,501 will pay for three years’ support costs for the Housing First programme

The council will also use funding from the Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal and borrowing from the Housing Revenue Account to buy the five Housing First properties. The remaining 15 Housing First homes will be provided by using 10 existing council homes and five from housing associations.

The NSAP is run by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and the funding will help the council continue the transformation of Oxford’s homelessness services that was underway before the pandemic.

Traditionally, people who have experienced rough sleeping in the UK tend to move from the streets to independent living in stages. This is sometimes referred to as a ‘staircase’ model. It assumes that people need to engage with support like mental health and addiction services before they are ready to move on to the next stage.

In Oxford, the staircase would typically involve assessment at the sit up service in O’Hanlon House, followed by a place in one of the city’s hostels and then supported accommodation in shared housing. Former rough sleepers would usually have to navigate these stages in turn before they could move on into independent housing.

While this approach can work well for people prepared to engage with support and who can cope in shared environments, it can be ineffective for people with complex support needs. In recent years, there has been an increase in ‘housing led’ approaches to help people who have slept rough long term or who have repeatedly returned to the streets.

A housing led approach such as Housing First turns the staircase model upside down. Rather than asking people to show they are ready to become more independent before moving to the next stage, it says that mainstream housing should be offered immediately. Wraparound support can then be provided to help them maintain their tenancies.

Differences between the UK and USA make a direct comparison difficult. However, evaluation of initiatives such as New York’s Pathways to Housing programme suggest that Housing First can help up to four fifths of former rough sleepers while also reducing pressure on other public services.

The two awards of NSAP funding will help the council deliver the new approach to preventing rough sleeping that began last year and that has continued throughout the pandemic.

Since the first lockdown in March, the council has offered accommodation to everyone experiencing rough sleeping in Oxford. The short-term funding awarded in September will allow the ‘everyone in’ approach to continue and help people move on into private rented housing.

The new award of long-term funding facilitates the provision of women-only and winter shelter accommodation by Aspire. It also means that the council can deliver permanent social housing immediately with the support that people need to prevent a return to the streets.

On 26 March the government issued an ‘everyone in’ direction for English councils to provide emergency housing for rough sleepers and vulnerable homeless people to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In Oxford, this included people sleeping on the streets and those in Floyds Row and the sit up (assessment) service at O’Hanlon House.

The council moved quickly to comply with the direction and secured 121 self-contained hotel and student rooms within two weeks. As the first lockdown eased and leasing agreements with hotels and colleges came to an end in July, the council leased the YHA and Canterbury House to provide 118 rooms of interim housing for another year.

Interim housing is a bridge between the emergency accommodation and more sustainable housing. It also means that the council can provide accommodation and support for people becoming homeless now and in the coming months – including winter beds that were provided in shared spaces before the pandemic.

So far the council has housed 261 people under ‘everyone in’ arrangements. Of these, 103 have been supported into more permanent housing and this includes a number of people who had been sleeping rough on a long term basis.

“People with long-term experience of rough sleeping or who repeatedly return to the streets often have complex support needs which mean supported housing is not a viable option for them. Housing led approaches like Housing First work on the principle that people need a stable, independent home as a first step, not the last.

“This award of long-term NSAP funding is welcome as it will help us to provide 20 Housing First flats and the intensive support that people will need to maintain tenancies and rebuild their lives.

“It will also help us to build upon the work we’ve done since the government called for ‘everyone in’ earlier this year. We continue to offer accommodation to everyone experiencing rough sleeping and have already supported 103 people into more settled housing. As we enter lockdown for a second time, NSAP funding will help us provide both immediate and long-term stability based on people’s needs.”

Councillor Mike Rowley, cabinet member for affordable housing and housing the homeless

“This longer term funding commitment from MHCLG is hugely welcome and will enable us to step up our response to the increase in demand for homelessness prevention and relief in Oxford, through and beyond COVID-19, so we can support more vulnerable adults and young people to leave homelessness, poverty and disadvantage behind.”

“With a previous MHCLG grant award in partnership with Oxford City Council, the refurbishment of two properties in central Oxford is now well under way and will soon be ready to welcome residents. One of the properties will be a women-only property, and the other will provide a COVID-secure night shelter for people facing homelessness during the winter period.”

Paul Roberts, CEO of Aspire

MIL OSI United Kingdom