Housing cuts raise concerns for Oxford’s homeless

Housing charity Oxford Homeless Pathways has launched a petition to protest a proposed 38% cut to the Housing Related Support budget recently announced by Oxfordshire County Council.

The proposed cut is part of the council’s wider plans to save £64 million over the next four years, and would reduce the current Housing Related Support budget of £4 million by £1.5 million. Currently, over 350 people in Oxfordshire are receiving support from charities part-funded by the council, with an additional 550 receiving direct support to prevent them from becoming homeless.

Oxford Homeless Pathways has published an open letter to the council on Change.org, warning that the move would cause problems for Oxford’s homeless. The petition reads, “Failing to help people can be every bit as expensive, especially in the long term,”

“Cutting these vital services will harm the people who need their support. It will damage our community and increase costs for the tax payer.”

Over 500 people have signed the petition so far, which aims to gain 1000 signatories.

Leslie Dewhurst, chief executive of the charity, expressed fears for the future of the three hostels in Oxfordshire that currently house about 60 homeless people each.

“It depends how they are going to carve the cuts up. They could decide to just close one of the three hostels in the city – I think it could be a possibility. But each of us have about 60 people and that is another 60 people sleeping rough.”

Mark Hankinson, who has been homeless for 11 years after losing his job and serving a prison sentence, is a resident at O’Hanlon House, one of the hostels run by Oxford Homeless Pathways. He said, “For homeless people the hostel is a big help. It is not just a matter of a bed and a meal – we have a worker who supports you.”

With the money saved from the cuts to the Housing Related Support budget, the council argues, an estimated £7m can be added to its adult social care budget. The council plans to save an additional £3 million by encouraging more people with learning disabilities to live at home with support.

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Oxfordshire County Councillor Arash Fatemian defended the cuts at a meeting at County Hall on Tuesday 17 December. “The sums we are talking are £50,000 here and £100,000 there, but that quickly adds up to £1 million,” he said. “My question for them is would they rather I found that saving in the adult social care or children’s services budgets?”

Oxford students have expressed broadly positive reactions to Oxford Homeless Pathways’ petition.

Some students question Fatemian’s assertion that the proposed council cuts make sense economically. “Homeless people are more likely to make use of expensive public services, including the NHS, prison and the police. Investment now in decreasing the number who need social support is likely to save money in the long term,” said Scarlett Harris, a medic at Magdalen. “Cutting the Housing Related Support budget will not necessarily help the council to save money.”

George Christofi, a Classics student, expressed concern for the people who would be most affected by the cuts. “Budget cuts are necessary, but they ought to be fairly apportioned and not focused on the most vulnerable among us,” he said.