The number of state-funded beds for homeless people in Oxfordshire is to be reduced from 285 to 154 as part of £1.5 million of cuts expected over the next three years.
In February, Oxfordshire County Council announced it would be reducing its support for homeless services (‘Housing Related Support’) following cuts to its funding from central government. Housing Related Support is responsible for providing two homeless hostels and 177 other beds. The changes will take effect in April 2017 and, by April 2019, funding will be withdrawn. To prevent the closure of all services, the county’s district councils and Oxford City Council will supply funds to a new pooled budget.
On 15 September, the City Executive Board of Oxford City Council agreed to put £161,700 into the pooled budget. They have committed to three years of funding. The money will be drawn from the £1.4 million already allocated by the City Council for its Homelessness Prevention Fund.
In a statement issued this week, the City Council said it “repeatedly indicated its opposition to these cuts, which it felt would hit some of the most vulnerable people in the County very hard, and would inevitably lead to an increase in rough sleeping at a time when it is already rising.”
Cllr Ed Turner, the Deputy Leader of Oxford City Council, said: “There is a desperate need for accommodation and support for homeless people in the City, and it is sad that the County Council reduced funding for this service, due to its overall financial situation. … By working together with our partners in the Districts, as well as with the County Council and the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning group, we are certain that we will be in a better position to continue to have some services in place.” He continued: “The proposed arrangements for the future will mean a reduction in units. However, it would provide more units for the City than we would have been able to provide outside of this kind of arrangement.”
Claire Dowan, Chief Executive of the Oxford Homeless Pathways charity, welcomed the pooled budget, but admitted that “we do not know how it will affect us yet, but it is very concerning … It could mean it simply becomes untenable for some organisations to keep operating.”
She added that: “services that are already stretched are going to be under further strain and there is still uncertainty about the long term.”