A network of businesses, housing providers, charities and councillors are teaming up this World Homeless Day (October 9) to launch Oxford Homeless Movement, an innovative city-wide project with its sights set on preventing rough sleeping.
Oxford has one of the highest rough sleeping rates in the country. In May this year, an evening snapshot count of the city found 48 people forced to sleep on the streets. Many of them had mental or physical health issues, substance dependencies or difficulty staying in accommodation.
So far the scheme has delivered a citywide charter demanding that no one has to sleep rough on the streets of Oxford again. Individuals and organisations can commit to the mission by making a pledge through the Oxford Homeless Movement website (which also serves as an information hub for those in need).
“Prevention is always better than cure,” the charter reads. “Every opportunity should be taken to prevent people from sleeping rough.
“The best way to help rough sleepers is to provide the accommodation and support they need to help them off the streets, to rebuild their lives, and to prevent a return to street homelessness.
“People who are rough sleeping should have the same opportunity to access information, work, training, volunteering, leisure and creative activities as the rest of Oxford’s community.”
The charter also asserts that people with lived experience of homelessness should have a say in finding the answers to their own issues.
An advisory group has been established, made up of people with first-hand experience of sleeping rough who are now linked to local agencies, which will see them assume a leadership role in the fight to end homelessness and in the fundraising effort for a new Impact Fund designed to plug the gaps in the local authority’s response to rough sleeping.
The Big Issue magazine is a social enterprise, a business that reinvests its profits in helping others who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, or whose lives are blighted by poverty.
Jane Cranston, chair of Oxford Homeless Movement, said: “It’s time we all said ‘enough is enough’. It will take a whole city effort if we are to have a serious go at preventing anybody from having to sleep rough on our streets.
“Oxford Homeless Movement is an exciting step in the right direction. Getting this far has required huge progress in co-operation.
“We all have a role to play.”
In 2017, the city was found to have the most expensive houses in the country relative to average local incomes.
Also in the works under the scheme are a pilot Housing First programme; more supported accommodation for those leaving psychiatric care; a house for homeless people who have been in hospital and need more time off the streets to recuperate; another new house opening for people getting out of prison who need support to rehabilitate back into the community; and a new supported housing at Matilda House, offering support and shelter for 22 homeless people with complex needs. It will also provide ‘move-on’ accommodation plus employment and training support for 15 people getting ready to live independently.
Cllr Linda Smith, deputy leader of Oxford City Council and cabinet member for leisure and housing, said: “We’re doing more than ever before to prevent and reduce rough sleeping, including more beds and better assessment services to help people off the streets as quickly as possible. But the number of people experiencing homelessness is still too high.
“We have to undertake street counts every two months and what we’re finding is that a quarter of people are new to the streets. We can’t end homelessness on our own.”
Also marking World Homeless Day will be New Horizons Youth Centre – though their approach is a little different.
The London day centre works with young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and they’ll be taking over Granary Square at Kings Cross on Thursday to host a Massaoke event. There will be a live band to play a host of widely-loved tunes with big screens showing the lyrics so that the whole crowd can get involved and help raise money for the service.
The Big Issue has inspired the launch of 120 street papers globally, including sister titles in Australia, South Africa, Japan, Taiwan and Korea.
New Horizon CEO Phil Kerry said: “Whilst the homelessness crisis is clear to everyone living and working in and around King’s Cross, for young people who are struggling to get by, their problems often go under the radar, leaving them invisible to the everyday passer-by.
“It is our mission at the New Horizon Youth Centre to make sure that their stories aren’t left unheard – that’s why we’re partnering with the King’s Cross community to raise awareness for youth homelessness in the run up to World Homeless Day. It’s a real opportunity for businesses and the public to come together to support those who struggle to build a better life because they’re simply lost in the daily battle of trying to find somewhere to sleep.”