Oxfordshire’s two biggest providers of shelter for the homeless are being forced to close due cuts in funding.
Simon House, located on Paradise Street in Oxford, and Julian Housing, based in Oxford and Abingdon, will be ‘decomissioned’ by April 2018. This follows the Government’s £1.5 million cut to homelessness provision across the county.
In response, the County Council and all five county districts resolved to provide a ‘realistic solution despite difficult circumstances’. They pledged £2.94 million over the next three years to counteract government cuts, but this will only provide 141 beds, less than half of the 286 currently available.
The funds from the County Council will be used to create a hostel with 56 beds in Oxford, which will allocate spaces to regions across the country. South Oxfordshire District Council and Vale of White Horse District Council have contributed around £215,000 to the project. Oxford City council will continue to provide its £1.4 million a year funding, but has said that it will be unable to increase its funding in response to Government cuts.
Andrew Smith, the MP for Oxford East, praised the city council for maintaining their support, but criticised the Government’s decision, saying that cuts “make a mockery of ministers’ claims that they want to tackle rough sleeping when they are pulling the rug from under the local providers.”
Simon House, which has beds for 52 people, will be closed over the next year. Julian Housing, which has around 150 beds and is run by Oxford Homeless Pathways, is expected to have its resources dispersed across the county over the following 6 months.
Lucy Faithful House, which provided 61 beds, was forced to close in January 2016 after Oxford Homeless Pathways had 38 per cent of its budget cut. The shelter had been offering support to rough sleepers in Oxford for 30 years.
Oxford City Council and several activist groups have expressed disappointment that the county’s funding has been cut. Claire Dowan, chief executive of charity Oxford Homeless Pathways, told the Oxford Mail the decision to withdraw more than half of the county’s beds for the homeless was a “significant cut” to an “essential and vital service”.
Ms Dowan said she “did not expect” such drastic reductions, and added about a quarter of the charity’s cash currently came from the Government.
She added, “Against a backdrop of ever increasing need in our city for support and accommodation, we are extremely concerned about the on-going decline in government funding and the increasing numbers of rough sleepers.
Oxford City Council expects that the number of rough sleepers in Oxfordshire will increase in the coming years. Concerns that changes to homelessness provision will lead to increased numbers of deaths due to conditions such as hypothermia have been raised by campaigners. Kate Cocker, director of Crisis Skylight Oxford, said that charities will be forced to fill the gap that cuts to government support will create in local authority funding.
There is currently no legal obligation for local authorities to offer or maintain homelessness provision.