A NEW partnership initiative is helping Oxford City Council to comply with a government direction to house rough sleepers and people in shared hostel spaces.

The council has already secured a total of 121 rooms in hotels and student accommodation blocks following government advice on March 26.

All but six of these are now being occupied, with the remaining rooms expected to be ready next week.

One hundred formerly homeless people are now self-isolating and new support arrangements – including the provision of food and essential items – are in place to ensure they can do so safely throughout the coronavirus outbreak.

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Linda Smith, deputy leader and cabinet member for housing and supporting the homeless, said: “With 121 hotel and student rooms laid on in a matter of weeks, our housing team and partners old and new have worked incredibly hard to protect homeless people from coronavirus.”

Oxford Mail:

The need to quickly find enough rooms with appropriate support means the council’s Housing Needs team has been working closely with existing partners and forging new partnerships to meet this goal.

These include arrangements with commercial hotels, the YHA and the Saïd Business School, University College and Pembroke College.

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While the beds already in place mean the council is able to meet immediate needs, it continues to look for suitable accommodation to prevent more people from having to sleep rough during the lockdown period.

Oxford Mail:

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) told councils it was “imperative that rough sleepers and other vulnerable homeless are supported into appropriate accommodation.”

In Oxford this included people in Floyds Row and the assessment service at O’Hanlon House who could not practise social distancing because they were living in shared spaces.

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By the time of the MHCLG direction the council was already working closely with Public Health England, Thames Valley Police, Turning Point, St Mungo’s outreach (OxSPOT), supported housing and day service providers to help ensure the safety of homeless people in Oxford.

This meant that 21 hotel rooms were already available for people experiencing rough sleeping on 26 March.

Oxford Mail:

Forty more hotel rooms were secured the following day (Friday 27 March), with another 42 rooms in the YHA added last week.

The remaining 18 rooms now in place are in self-contained student accommodation leased through new partnerships with Oxford University.

Saïd Business School is providing 12 rooms that are now available for people at high risk of infection.

University College is providing the six rooms expected to open next week, and these will be for people displaying symptoms of coronavirus.

The council has sourced the personal protective equipment that will allow safe support to be given to people with symptoms of the virus.

To ensure that people are placed into suitable accommodation, the council has also opened a new triage service.

Oxford Mail:

It is working with St Mungo’s and Luther Street Medical Centre to house people based on whether they have coronavirus symptoms or underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable.

As the wing of Floyds Row that opened in January contained shared living spaces that meant residents could not practise social distancing, this has now closed for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak.

The council is delivering food and essential items three times a day to ensure that people can self-isolate successfully and do not need to leave their rooms.

Citywide partnership Oxford Homeless Movement has created an Amazon wishlist to provide items like kettles, toiletries, cutlery, electronic tablets, socks and underwear.

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The council is in discussions with other parts of the university about providing a wider range of accommodation if the need arises.

Jane Cranston, chair of Oxford Homeless Movement, said: “All credit to the city council for the immense amount of work undertaken to house the city’s rough sleepers and other homeless people so quickly."

Oxford Mail:

Peter Tufano, Peter Moores dean, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, said: “We at Oxford Saïd are glad to offer support to our wider community at this time of crisis.

“Once the emergency is over, we look forward to opening our doors to our students and colleagues once again, and returning the building to its original use.”