THE team behind a new Oxford housing project say they have hit on a unique solution to the city’s homelessness problem.

The Edge Housing group owns three homes in the city where it houses people at risk of homelessness for years at a time.

Rent is covered entirely by tenants’ housing benefit payments.

The staff meet up with each of their 13 current tenants every week to help them find work and move into permanent accommodation.

The group believes it has found a revolutionary solution to the ‘revolving door’ hostel approach to tackling homelessness, but now it desperately needs more funding to keep going.

Project manager Rachel Parfitt, based at Oxford Community Church in Osney Mead, explained that they do not take anyone who is actively abusing drugs or alcohol.

The project, set up five years ago by the church, but strictly not religious, is specifically aimed at tackling “hidden homelessness”.

She explained: “These are people who, if you saw them walking down the street, you wouldn’t necessarily know they are homeless.

“We have one guy at the moment who owned property, and was married and had a good job, then alcoholism caught up with him.

“His marriage broke down and within a couple of months he was living in a tent in a field wondering what had happened.”

Another current tenant had a steady job until a gambling hobby spiralled out of control and turned into serious debt. He ended up stealing from someone at his job and going to prison. When he came out he had nowhere to live.

Ms Parfitt said: “He moved in with us, attended Gamblers Anonymous, and now he’s got a home on the other side of Oxford and hasn’t gone back to gambling.”

In the past year, Edge Housing has helped 15 of its clients get jobs and seven get better accommodation.

The group stresses that while it relies on Oxford’s other homelessness charities and services for support and referrals, its own service is unique in the city.

Ms Parfitt said: “We are the only project of its type in Oxford.

“We want to stop the revolving door and help people to live.

“We say tenants have to always be moving forward: you can’t just stay in one of our houses being nice and cosy.”

Because the charity’s concrete results can be so difficult to measure (it does not officially keep track of its former tenants), applying for funding has always been difficult.

Last year it got enough money to recruit its second employee alongside Ms Parfitt – support manager Paul Lancaster – but that funding runs out in April.

Ms Parfitt now fears if the group cannot find funding to keep him on, the trustees will simply have to let him go and may have to close one of its houses down.

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