By Conor McKenzie, Oxford Liberal Democrat Homelessness & Rough Sleeping Spokesperson, and Councillor Liz Wade, Liberal Democrat Housing Spokesperson

The Liberal Democrats in Oxford have been leading voices in calling for ‘bold and brave solutions’ on homelessness and rough sleeping. While Labour have repeatedly failed to provide solutions, we have a record of demanding better.

In 2015, the Oxford Labour Party tried to introduce a £1,000 homeless fine in the shape of Public Space Protection Orders. We were there calling them out and forcing them to change course. Following intense political and public pressure, they ditched their attempt to have it cover rough sleeping but still kept it in place for those ‘busking and begging’ – often a sad necessity for those on the streets.

In 2016, two leading Labour councillors in Oxford demeaned people on the streets. One councillor said: “I’d like to go up to a rough sleeper and say, ‘you’re a disgrace’.”, and another: “If you see someone begging, call the police”. We were the first to tell them that they were wrong, and that homeless people need our support, not cruel words.

In 2017, Liberal Democrat councillors pointed out the disgrace that the City Council had failed to spend £400,000 of its 2016-17 homelessness support budget. We also called for the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) to provide emergency accommodation to rough sleepers every night of 0 degrees or below, not just after three – however this was shot down.

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In January 2018, we called out Labour’s introduction of Community Protection Notices (CPNs). These were being used to primarily threaten rough sleepers with £2,500 fines and they had even been used to remove people’s belongings, including their sleeping bags. After much public outrage and pressure from the Liberal Democrats, the use of CPNs has been tightened up and won’t be used unless in the most exceptional cases, and after legal signoff.

In February, the Liberal Democrats found £3.4 million of funding to invest in building safe, stable and more permanent housing for those rough sleeping in the City Council’s 2018 budget. This would have had the potential to get people off the streets and into warm, small unit housing that are fit for purpose and where they can then get the additional support they need. Labour rejected this.

In July, the Liberal Democrats again proposed this policy, known as ‘Housing First’. Despite the concept working to great effect in Scandinavia and Scotland, Labour’s Deputy Leader branded it a ‘gimmick’, and even replaced our motion’s praise for local charities and community groups with self-congratulation.

Now, at the end of 2018, we have welcomed the City Council finally accepting our proposals on SWEP, extending it to every night below 0 degrees this winter. However, we’re calling for it to go even further in ensuring those rough sleeping are given the support they desperately need this winter and don’t need to sleep on the streets for a single night in the most difficult conditions.

1) Trigger SWEP at 4 degrees, not 0 degrees

2) Extend the window to access emergency shelter, 30 minutes between 9pm and 9:30pm isn’t long enough

3) Take into account additional adverse weather conditions, such as very strong wind and heavy rain, as well as snow and ice

4) Keep SWEP activated for a minimum of three nights once activated, allowing City Council officers to make contact and provide further, lasting assistance

Liberal Democrats in Oxford are offering far more than just rhetoric on rough sleeping. We have the bold and brave solutions and have been consistently offering them. These steps are practical, compassionate, and highly achievable.

Let’s be clear: if we want Oxford to be a pioneer of ‘bold and brave solutions’ on homelessness and rough sleeping, we need the Liberal Democrats who are actually offering those solutions running the council.