The homeless shelter Lucy Faithfull House will be demolished by the end of the year, threatening to deepen Oxford’s homelessness crisis.
The council’s decision to bulldoze the building comes despite support for the reopening of the shelter, including a petition signed over 3000 times.
Lucy Faithfull House shut in February 2016 after Oxfordshire County Council withdrew its annual £500,000 funding. The shelter provided help to those with complex needs or substance misuse issues for 30 years and had beds for 61 people.
Labour councillor Mike Rowley told Cherwell: “We looked at what could be done with Lucy Faithfull House pending demolition; it could not be made safe in time for winter and the homelessness providers in Oxford told us they do not have capacity to run it.
“We are working with seven City Centre Churches to provide extra space on rotation over the winter, which should be open every night during the winter months. This can be staffed by the existing providers as it is much more manageable.”
However, David Thomas, leader of the Green Group on Oxford City Council told Cherwell: “The decision to close Lucy Faithfull House at a time of significant underspend in homeless funding by Labour is going to force many people to be spending this winter out on the streets in sub zero temperature. It doesn’t have to be this way.
“Under Labour’s own rules [the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol] rough sleepers can spend two nights out in sub zero temperatures before being entitled to emergency accommodation.”
The Green Party also pointed out that the decision will mean a purpose built homeless hostel, which could be made available for emergency accommodation, will lie empty during the winter. This would mean that dozens of men and women would be forced to sleep in freezing temperatures on Oxford’s streets.
Rowley contested the claims made by the Greens, telling Cherwell: “All the beds at Lucy Faithfull House were replaced when it closed, in various locations around the City.
“There is not therefore any lack of beds – in fact we are planning to provide 167 against an assessed need of 150, plus 10 in the “sit-up” service at O’Hanlon House, 10 provided by the City Centre Churches over the winter, and emergency bad-weather provision at the existing hostel.”
Jeevan Ravindran, head of Oxford SU’s ‘On Your Doorstep’ campaign, told Cherwell: “We wish the council would engage in more open dialogue with homelessness activism groups and not simply dismiss their proposals.
“It would have been great to see Lucy Faithfull house used as a temporary shelter during the winter, or at least to have examined the possibility of this.
“It’s shocking to see how much homelessness in Oxford has increased just over the summer months, and to think of all those people sleeping on the streets in the height of winter is just devastating. Funding needs to be found somewhere to help them and increase winter provision, and only the council can do that.”
The Green Party further explained to Cherwell that, athough Labour claimed they didn’t have the money to keep the shelter open, last year the council underspent the homeless budget by £400,000.
Labour said that the underspend was a deliberate move to provide extra funding for this year to respond to the closure of Simon House which, along with another shelter Julian Housing, is set to be decommissioned in April 2018.
The Greens claim that Labour have now reneged on this promise and refused to make the £400,000 available.
The Green Party added that Oxford University and its colleges have failed to offer up any premises for the homeless over the winter.
The council intends to replace the shelter with flats built by the Council’s own building company. However, only 50% of the flats will be affordable housing.
Green Party representative Tim Eden told Cherwell: “Yet again this year, the Labour-led council has shown its complete distain for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
“From slapping fines on piles of belongings in July, to Cllr. John Tanner (Lab. Littlemore) branding homeless people a ‘disgrace’, to PSPOs widespread across the city centre, the Council show that they just want the ‘homeless issue’ banished from Oxford.
“Recently, the council have reiterated a policy that housing will be given to all locally connected homeless persons if the temperature drops below 0°c three nights in a row.
“This is whilst reiterating that they will sell Lucy Faithfull House without any permanent plans to replace the shelter, just to expensively hire out rooms ad hoc, and presumably shipping others off to other areas with one way train tickets.”
Hertford for the Homeless (H4H), also highlighted the failure by the authorities to take action to solve the homelessness crisis, commenting: “H4H understands that the LF hostel closed when the County council re-commissioned their homeless support services, and that severe cuts to homeless budgets would make it impossible to keep LF open as well as the services commissioned to replace them.
“The fact remains that there is a visible terrible problem with homelessness in Oxford which clearly shows there is not enough affordable accommodation with support to help people recover from homelessness and to address the often complex issues that lead to their situation to prevent the ‘revolving door’ of homelessness.
“We are also aware that welfare reforms have led to an increase in homeless families as well as in single homeless people in Oxford as in the rest of the UK. If it is possible that the LF hostel building could safely be used to provide much needed winter services to homeless people, it seems mad to demolish it before spring and H4H would hope to see a commitment from the authority to quickly using the LF site to develop affordable social housing for individuals and families who need it.”