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‘Budget cuts will have huge impact on homeless people’
6:00am Thursday 19th December 2013 in News
ONE of Oxford’s three homeless hostels could close if proposed budget cuts go ahead, a charity boss has warned.
Lesley Dewhurst, chief executive of Oxford Homeless Pathways, which runs O’Hanlon House in Luther Street, said that a 38 per cent cut to Oxfordshire County Council’s budget to keep people off the streets would have a huge impact.
Under its plans to save £64m over the next four years, the county council has announced a proposal to cut its £4m housing-related support budget by £1.5m.
A large chunk of the budget – £1m in total – is spent by Oxford Homeless Pathways on running shelters O’Hanlon House and Julian Housing and on managing Oxford Homeless Medical Fund.
Ms Dewhurst has warned that loss of funding could result in a closure of one of the city’s three hostels – O’Hanlon House, run by Oxford Homeless Pathways, Lucy Faithfull House and Simon House.
She told the Oxford Mail: “It will be a massive hole in our budget and I cannot consider sustaining a service with a third less money.
“Keeping the building safe, working with people you have never met before – you have to have staff on all the time.
“It is not a cheap thing to run.
“It depends how they are going to carve the cuts up.
“They could decide to just close one of the three hostels in the city – I think it could be a possibility.
“But each of us have about 60 people and that is another 60 people sleeping rough.”
She added: “It is actually far more costly to have people hanging round on the streets – A&E, the police – and people pick up worse habits on the streets.
“It is an expensive way of trying to save money.”
Dad-of-two Mark Hankinson has been homeless on and off for about 11 years after he lost his job and went to prison.
The 45-year-old, who is staying at O’Hanlon House in Luther Street, said: “For homeless people the hostel is a big help. It is not just a matter of a bed and a meal – we have a worker who supports you.
“It is a big stepping stone.”
On the proposed cuts, he added: “I think there will be lots more people on the streets.”
Philip Cartwright, 60, secured a flat in Wolvercote in October thanks to the support of O’Hanlon House, but was homeless for 29 years before that. He had been in and out of prison.
Mr Cartwright said: “The council has really got to think about what it is doing.
“If you are on the street you become the council’s problem, but once you are in this place you are the problem of the hostel.”
The proposal comes after county council cabinet members said they were still committed to supporting vulnerable people in the county, despite cuts of £7.1m in adult social care and £6.4m in children’s services.
At a meeting at County Hall on Tuesday, cabinet member for finance Arash Fatemian and other senior Conservative councillors spoke of the difficulty they faced in putting the budget together.
Mr Fatemian said: “There are a number of groups representing worthy causes which have had to have their budgets cut.
“The sums we are talking about are £50,000 here and £100,000 there, but that quickly adds up to £1m, and my question for them is would they rather I found that saving in the adult social care or children’s services budgets?”
Oxford Homeless Pathways will discuss the cuts at O’Hanlon House tomorrow at 5.30pm.
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