Oxford City Council has proposed significant spending increases to combat homelessness in its proposed 2018-19 Budget plans.
The Council plans to increase the current £1.4m annual funding of homelessness prevention services by £200k until 2022. An additional £5m is to be reserved to purchase 15-20 properties for use by local homeless families.
It has also been announced that the council will use an abandoned house in Rose Hill to serve as temporary accommodation for rough sleepers.
The UK Government approved a Compulsory Purchase Order for the four bedroom house in Spencer Crescent, Rose Hill. It has been empty since the owner’s death in 1989. Renovation plans are now underway.
The news follows the most recent homelessness street count in November, which showed that 61 people were sleeping rough in Oxford, the highest recorded figure in the city’s history.
The report on the proposed Budget stated that over 300 people a year fall into rough sleeping in Oxford, more than 25 per month.
Councillor Mark Rowley, the Board Member for Housing, told Cherwell: “Oxford City Council spends more on homelessness prevention and services for homeless people than almost any other Council of comparable size.
“Demand is rising, due largely to Government benefits and housing policy, and we are increasing our contribution still further by providing new homes … and by increasing our contribution to the local organisations that help the homeless.”
Ed Turner, the Labour Councillor in whose ward the Rose Hill property is located, told Cherwell: “I’m pleased and relieved. There are many people in acute housing need locally who have walked past this house, knowing how they, or someone like them, would benefit from being able to have it.”
As Deputy Leader of the Council in overseeing the wider budget plans, Turner said: “This budget has been produced in challenging times for Oxford. Some government policies, notably the freeze on benefits and the introduction of Universal Credit, may exacerbate [homelessness].”
Local charities have reacted positively to the Council’s actions. Homeless Oxfordshire works closely with the Council to provide emergency accommodation and day services for rough sleepers.
The charity’s Chief Executive, Claire Dowan, told Cherwell: “Homeless Oxfordshire welcomes any additional funding that will be used to support rough sleepers, people that are homeless or those that are vulnerably housed in the City.
“Homelessness is a significant issue at the moment and the City Council are working hard to address the problem.
The steps taken in the proposed Budget follow the UK Government’s decision for 2016-17 to reduce, by £956k, the Council’s Preventing Homelessness Grant allocation. Oxford County Council is also now withdrawing funding for supported accommodation for homeless persons.
Bob Price, Leader of Oxford City Council, told Cherwell that the new budget plans are intended to “soften the impact of the County Council’s complete removal of their £1.3m ‘Supporting People’ budget on the charity-based services which provide support and preventative interventions for single homeless people”.
Alex Kumar, Chair of Oxford University SU’s ‘On Your Doorstep’ homelessness campaign cautiously welcomed the proposals, saying the Council’s steps were “reassuring”.
He told Cherwell: “Failure on the part of others does not license inaction: it makes inaction inexcusable. It would be a great disappointment should either of these plans not survive consultation.”
“Our councillors now face some pressing decisions. Are they to preside over a city in crisis where businesses erect barricades and homeless squatters are evicted from unused buildings, or are they to take a stand for those who sleep in our city’s doorways, who have nothing, and ask for so little as a shelter on a cold, windy night?”
Regarding the proposed budget, the City Executive Board will consider all proposals on Wednesday before a budget consultation period opens inviting public involvement. The final budget is to be approved in February.