With the Home Office having announced a new policy of deporting rough sleepers who are non-UK nationals, Oxford City Council is stating its intention not to cooperate with the Home Office’s new policy.
The new policy will allow the Home Office to deport any non-UK national who is found to be sleeping on the street for any period of time. Even people who are legally resident in the UK could be eligible for deportation.
Taken to its extreme, rough sleepers with many years of legal residence in the UK, such as those with indefinite leave to remain, could be deported if they sleep on the street for as little as a day.
In stating his disapproval and intended non-cooperation with the Home Office’s policy, Mike Rowley, cabinet member for affordable housing and housing the homeless, said that, “homelessness is not a crime and it should never be treated like one”.
Mr. Rowley also said that he thought, “the key to helping people leave the streets behind is establishing trust and the Home Office is undermining the government’s own commitment to end rough sleeping by throwing that away. When we said ‘everyone in’ we meant it, but it seems that for the Home Office the hostile environment still comes first”.
Oxford’s new pledge
The government has previously announced that it wishes to tackle rough sleeping and has pledged an extra £236 million towards achieving that goal. The increased funding has been pledged for housing for up to 6000 rough sleepers (and those at immediate risk of rough sleeping).
Since late March, many thousands of rough sleepers have been temporarily housed due to lockdown, but it now seems that that helping hand will not be extended further to rough sleepers who are not UK nationals.
Seemingly in opposition to this new approach, Oxford City Council stated that, “we believe that the potential threat of deportation will deter people from accepting the support and accommodation that has been offered to everyone experiencing rough sleeping since lockdown in March”.
Perhaps, this is not so surprising given Oxford’s tradition of helping rough sleepers who are foreign nationals, a sizeable community in Oxford. Just last week, Oxford City Council’s provider of homeless services, St Mungo’s and its outreach team OXSPOT, helped a third of the 38 rough sleepers in Oxford who are from abroad.
In explaining the values that lie behind its decision, Oxford City Council said that: “We also believe that the new rules are in direct conflict with our promise to be a city of sanctuary for all of Oxford’s migrant communities”.