MORE government funding is vital if Oxford's fight to reduce rough sleeping is to succeed, according to a leading city councillor.

Linda Smith, the city council's board member for housing, spoke out as the latest figures from a rough sleeper count showed a fall in the number of people on the streets.

In March there were 37 rough sleepers according to the count, compared to 45 in November, an 18 per cent decrease.

The city council accepts the counts are not as accurate as rough sleeper estimates as they only take into account people bedded down or about to bed down - not people in inaccessible places such as stairwells, or in closed tents.


In November the annual rough sleeper estimate, which relies on data from outreach teams and other service providers, was 94, an increase on the previous year's figure of 89.

Although the rough sleeper count has fallen, rough sleeping in the city has not gone away - people could be seen crashed out on busy shopping streets in the middle of the day yesterday.

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Ms Smith, board member for housing, welcomed the latest count showing a decrease, and praised the Oxford Winter Night Shelter, run by city churches, for its contribution over the winter months.

Ms Smith tweeted: "Rough sleeping in Oxford is down thanks to extra beds and support workers throughout the winter months, thanks also to @OwnsOxford [Oxford Winter Night Shelter] for their contribution.@OxfordCity [the city council] can do much more if the short-term Govt funding to support these essential but non-statutory services is maintained."

Twelve churches took turns to support the work of homeless shelters by offering an additional 20 beds a night from January to March.

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The council admitted the counts cannot give a complete picture of street homelessness but said they were useful in measuring trends in the number and needs of rough sleepers over time.

While the council welcomed the reduction, artist Carole Powell, 61, who sells artwork in Cornmarket near Carfax warned the problem could get worse in the summer months.

Ms Powell, who lives in council accommodation on the Barton estate, said: "I don't think the problem will ever go away completely.


"It can get worse in the summer when people don't mind sleeping out and there are lots of tourists about to ask for money - people come to Oxford from outside the city to sleep rough."

The council is spending more than £2m in 2018/2019 on tackling homelessness and is planning to provide accommodation for all rough sleepers by the winter.

The majority of rough sleepers counted in March were white male UK nationals aged between 36 and 49 and were sleeping in the city centre.

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Approximately one fifth (seven) of rough sleepers were identified as women – a decrease on the quarter (11 women) counted in November.

Another fifth (seven) of people counted had accommodation in Oxford but chose to sleep out on the night.


Twelve people were new to rough sleeping, with two who had returned to the streets after being accommodated.

Eighteen people were long-term rough sleepers who had been sleeping rough for more than six months, a slight increase on the 15 people counted in November.

While most (22) rough sleepers were UK nationals, a sixth (six) of those counted were EU nationals.

Five people (14 per cent) had no recourse to public funds – meaning they cannot claim benefits or housing due to their immigration status.

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Stephen Clarke, the council's head of housing services, said: “We know that street counts don’t provide a complete picture of rough sleeping but they do help us to measure trends.


"New Rough Sleeper Initiative-funded beds, and a doubling of Churches Together in Oxford’s winter provision to 20 beds a night, meant that the number of people we counted sleeping on the streets fell over the course of the winter.

This is a welcome development as nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford.”

Rev Mary Gurr, chaplain to the homeless in Oxford, said: "The churches helped 58 people over the winter months and one or two people were with us for the whole time."

Rough Sleeper Initiative funding comes from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

The council successfully bid for £503,000 in RSI funding in 2018/19, which meant that 39 additional beds were provided for people experiencing homelessness last winter.


These included specialist accommodation for women, two winter shelters available for people without a local connection or recourse to public funds, and 10 extra sit-up spaces for those whose eligibility for Oxford’s adult homeless pathway was being assessed. The MHCLG has confirmed a further £511,000 in RSI funding for 2019/20.

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The council is in the process of converting the former job centre in Floyds Row off St Aldate's into a £1.6m assessment hub and emergency shelter to help people off the streets and some services are expected to open this year.

Once fully operational, 1 Floyds Row will provide assessment services and a range of short-term accommodation for up to 60 people experiencing homelessness or at risk of rough sleeping.

This will include a winter-long emergency shelter that will open for winter 2019/20 and will be available to anyone – regardless of their local connection or immigration status.


There was no street count in January. Snow and freezing weather meant the council had activated its severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP) on both the scheduled and reserve dates for the count.

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As emergency beds were available for all rough sleepers, the street count team carried out a welfare check and offered SWEP spaces to everyone they found instead.

Over the winter months the council and local homelessness organisations provided emergency (SWEP) accommodation to 94 individual rough sleepers for a total of 368 stays.