The decision to cut homeless support has been passed despite widespread public opposition and fears that it means “more deaths on the streets”.
On the day the county cabinet sat to vote on the budget, a crowd of up to 250 students, service workers and members of the public gathered outside Oxford City Council to protest a 38% cut to homeless related support.
The protesters, many of whom carried white balloons and lifted large placards, loudly chanted “No cuts! No cuts”.
Homeless sector workers and opposition councillors addressed the gathering with impassioned speeches that stressed the impact of the cuts.
Anne-Marie Canning, a City Councillor for Labour, warned: “We know that one of our hostels will have to close as a result of these cuts. We know that there will be more people on the streets and more deaths on the streets; that is not an exaggeration.”
The cuts come at a time when services for the homeless are already struggling.
Lesley Dewhurst, a local charity head, told the crowd: “We’ve already cut as much fat as we can with 20% reductions in funding over the last two years.”
At O’Hanlon House night shelter, a few weeks before the protest, Mark Hankinson, a recovering addict who has been homeless for twenty two years, speaking to the OxStu, said: “The services here are doing the best they can […] But they’re full, they turn people away every night.”
Near the shelter, three or four tents have been pitched. Hankinson explained: “They’ve been here for three months now, they can’t get accommodation in there and it’s safe for them beside the hostel.”
Last month, Mark was let out of hospital after a blood transfusion. He explained that, without his doctor’s efforts to get him into O’Hanlon House, he would have been on the streets and is unlikely to have survived.
Standing on a wall at the protest, Clive Harris, dressed in a fluorescent jacket and large white lady’s hat, explained his reasons for supporting opposition to the cuts: “I was let out of prison last February. I had nothing. There’s no support once you leave prison. Without these services I would have been out on the streets. Now I’ve got a place to live and I’m back on my feet.”
The council announced its proposal to cut Housing Related support by £1.5m as part of a wider strategy to save £64m in spending over the next four years.
At the protest, Dan Tomilson, OUSU rep for charities, said: “It’s great to see so many students out here. It shows that students do care about these cuts.”
Tom Rutland, OUSU president, delivered a speech to protesters in which he criticised the “harsh, cruel and unnecessary cuts”.
Matthew Dawson, a third year PPEist who was at the protest said: “Homelessness is such an issue, it’s so in your face, and we can’t just ignore it.”
Grace Roth, from Wadham agreed: “The council seem to think that this cut will bring about some sort of financial solution. But it won’t. The sector has already faced a 20% cut and there has been no financial improvement. I think the council need to look at a broader picture.”
As the protest ended, the cabinet entered the County Council building to discuss the budget.
Ian Hudspeth, a Conservative councillor and cabinet chair, refused to comment as he passed through the protesters thronging the doors of the Council buildings.
During the council meeting, where opponents of the cuts filled the seats, Dewhurst presented a petition of 3000 signatories to Hudspeth.
In an address to the cabinet, Councillor Susanna Pressel asked: “To what extent has the cabinet or offices discussed with the police, the NHS and the City council the repercussions of such a closure?”
Councillor Heathcoat, the cabinet member for adult care, replied: “Pressel is making sweeping assumptions that are not justified on the basis of what we have proposed”.
Pressel’s response to the government line prompted cheers from the audience: “Well that’s not very good is it?”