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The Homeless In Oxford Won’t Need to Go Back to Sleeping Outside, Even if Pandemic Ends This Year

The Oxford City Council has secured 124 rooms of interim housing for the next year, ensuring there will be no need to return to the streets for former homeless folks that are currently housed in hotels and student blocks.

The council announced last week it had reached an agreement with A2Dominion, which provides student housing, to lease its Canterbury House until July 2021. It has also extended its current lease on the youth hostel run by the nonprofit YHA until the end of March.

In March, the government issued an ‘everyone inside’ direction for local English councils to provide emergency housing for rough sleepers and vulnerable homeless people to prevent the spread of coronavirus—and to date, there have been no confirmed cases of the virus among homeless people in Oxford.

The council has been working closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to deliver interim accommodation and has applied for funding from the £105 million pot unveiled last month.

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“The lockdown period gave us a unique opportunity to engage with people in emergency accommodation. For many of them, the certainty of a safe bed gave the bit of stability they needed to start having conversations about leaving the streets behind for good. We’ve already helped 76 people to move on into more sustainable housing, and this is something we want to keep doing,” said Councillor Mike Rowley in a statement on July 30.

Canterbury House and the YHA provide 76 and 42 rooms of self-contained accommodation respectively. A further six rooms are available in a block already leased from University College for people displaying symptoms of coronavirus, which so far, has not been needed.

Interim housing is a bridge between emergency lockdown arrangements and more sustainable housing. The acquisition of Canterbury House and extension of the YHA lease mean the council will be able to maintain accommodation for people housed during lockdown as existing agreements with hotels and colleges come to an end this month.

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It will also allow the council to provide accommodation and support for people who become homeless over the coming months. This will include winter beds that were provided in shared spaces before the pandemic.

A total of 203 people have been housed in hotel and student rooms in Oxford over the past four months. Of these, 76 have been supported into more permanent housing and this includes a number of people who had been sleeping rough on a long term basis. Consolidating the current patchwork of hotel and student rooms into two main locations will make it easier to provide intensive personal support that helps more people off the streets for good.

St Mungo’s will continue to manage this interim housing from these two locations in addition to the outreach, assessment and support services it currently provides for the council.

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Converting Canterbury House from student accommodation to interim housing will require planning permission for a temporary change of use. The council is arranging the consultation necessary to facilitate a planning application. It is also working with Thames Valley Police and other partners on plans to inform local residents about the change of use and give them an opportunity to express their views.

“We believe that nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford and I’d like to thank Oxford Brookes University, A2Dominion, the YHA, University College and St Mungo’s for helping us to provide the interim accommodation that could make our ambition a reality,” added Rowley.

Luke Hall MP, Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing, said: “We now have a real opportunity to ensure that as many people as possible do not return to a life on the streets. Nationally, we are delivering 6,000 longer-term, safe homes for former rough sleepers. Together with our Rough Sleeping Initiative this amounts to over £500m funding to help break the cycle of homelessness and end rough sleeping for good.”

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