This is an editorial opinion piece from Oxford city councillor Linda Smith, cabinet member for housing, about homelessness in the city.

The cost of living and government inaction on the promised ban of ‘no fault’ evictions are fuelling a national homelessness crisis. Private rents are at record levels. Overstretched budgets mean more and more people are being asked to leave by family and friends. And government figures show no fault evictions have nearly doubled in 18 months.

We never forget that homelessness comes with a terrible human cost. The crisis hitting so many people so hard also means more demand for council services, at a time when our own finances are severely stretched.

What are we doing about this?

Oxford Mail: Linda Smith

Oxford Mail:

We’re putting preventing homelessness at the heart of our housing services. Prevention is always better than cure and we’re working harder to stop people from becoming homeless in the first place. Where homelessness is unavoidable, we’re helping people into a stable home as quickly as we can.

We’ve reorganised our Housing Needs service to do this. We’ve also increased the amount of temporary accommodation we provide and moved more people from temporary accommodation into settled homes.

Rough sleeping is the most visible form of homelessness. We believe nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford.

We are a co-founder of the Oxfordshire Homeless Alliance, which launched in April 2022. With an annual budget of £3.8m, the Alliance and is developing a ‘housing-led’ service to prevent and reduce rough sleeping across the county. It brings together most outreach, accommodation and prevention services in a system-wide approach to tackling homelessness.

When we say housing-led we also mean a new way of helping people. Until now, people experiencing rough sleeping would normally move from the streets to independent living in stages.

Oxford Mail: Matilda House in Cowley offers supported housingMatilda House in Cowley offers supported housing (Image: Oxford City Council)

Housing First takes a different approach. The crucial first step is to provide a settled roof over someone’s head, without preconditions like engaging with a treatment service. Intensive personal support is then provided to help them maintain their tenancies and prevent a return to the streets.

Housing First is a more effective way of helping people who find it difficult to cope in shared environments and who have complex support and unmet needs.

A range of council teams is now working with St Mungo’s, A2Dominion and external partners like Turning Point to provide support to tenants in 21 Housing First properties. Another five properties will become available soon. We hope to have 35 Housing First properties by the end of the financial year.

Last week, council voted to expand our Housing First programme by providing 17 new properties and support costs for three years. It’s the right thing to do.