THE deaths of nine homeless people has led to a review which calls for better co-operation and better understanding of the issues rough sleepers face.

The review, by the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Adults Board (OSAB), was commissioned after the deaths of nine homeless people in Oxfordshire between October 2018 and June 2019.

The review, written by independent authors Dr Adi Cooper and Professor Michael Preston-Shoot, said the nine homeless people 'died in very difficult circumstances and at far too young an age' and called for a 'commitment to implement any safeguarding lessons across the health and social care system in Oxfordshire'.

The majority of the deaths appear to have happened in Oxford, though the review does not identify the rough sleepers by name or where they were living.

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Instead of focussing on the reasons behind the deaths of each individual, the watchdog has looked at the 'thematic' ways in which help for the homeless could improve to prevent future deaths.

There were four areas the review looked at: 1. Direct help for homeless individuals; 2. Support for homelessness workers, including training; 3. Co-operation between different organisations helping rough sleepers; and 4. The need for a 'strategic' overall approach.

Of the nine people whose deaths led to the report, all had experienced some form of drug or alcohol abuse and had some physical health issues.

Some were living with mental health problems or memories of past trauma, and others had faced domestic abuse.

The review found there was 'a lack of understanding of the needs of people who self-neglect, with practitioners not recognising or not understanding repeated patterns of behaviour'.

It said persistence by support workers was needed to make sure people had the help they needed.

The two reviewers also said there were examples of good collaboration between local councils, charities, the police and hospitals in helping the homeless.

But it added there were also occasions when co-operation had been 'fragmentary', and sometimes charities had competed with one another rather than working together.

More training for support workers was also needed, the reviewers said, as sometimes 'voluntary sector and particularly housing support workers were often left “holding the baby”' when others did not provide help.

And overall, it said: "It is vital that there is one clear partnership or organisation in Oxfordshire that takes responsibility for homelessness in terms of governance and strategic oversight."

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Currently, most rough sleepers have been accommodated during the pandemic due to extra funding.

The Government programme 'Everyone In' which housed rough sleepers during the first lockdown is now working to give them long term support to change their lives permanently.

In Oxford there is a small core of people who are still sleeping on the streets despite this help.

Some have refused help, others have been evicted from homeless shelters, and many of them are living with mental health or substance abuse problems.

Dr Sue Ross, independent chairwoman of the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Adults Board, said: “I would like to express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of those who died and our thanks to those family members who contributed to developing our understanding of the issues facing their loved ones.

“The board is committed to working alongside partners in order to ensure that the recommendations are implemented and understood by professionals, improving how we interact and better serve those who are at risk of becoming homeless in Oxfordshire.”

Lawrie Stratford, Lead Member for Adult Social Care at Oxfordshire County Council, said: “Oxfordshire County Council takes it responsibilities to people affected by homelessness very seriously."

He added: “We know that there is a strong collective willingness to improve as a group of organisations in response to these recommendations. Mortality rates among people affected by homelessness are far too high nationally and locally and we are committed to changing this in Oxfordshire.”

Mike Rowley, Oxford City Council's cabinet member for affordable housing and housing the homeless, said: "We extend our condolences to the families and friends of the nine people who died in tragic circumstances on the streets and in supported accommodation.

"While each death is a tragedy, the brutal truth is that homelessness kills. The Office for National Statistics reports that the average age of death for a homeless person is 45 for men and 43 for women, compared with 76 and 81 in the general population.

"We will do everything we can to implement the recommendations of the review and reduce the risk of further deaths among homeless people."