Oxford City Council is adapting its response to housing those in need. Whilst the annual closure of the city’s emergency winter shelter is expected to lead to an increase in rough sleeping between now and July, the council will be able to offer six new affordable homes for refugees with its new £2.3m programme.
There is continual demand for secure housing. The City Council records that the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) was activated ten times since December including in April for the first time since 2013. Numbers show that the SWEP protocol proved vital for many over the winter months. During 2022-2023, 106 people took up beds when the SWEP protocol was activated with an average of 13 people per night. The Council worked with St Mungo’s, The Porch, Homeless Oxfordshire, Ark-T and Turning Point to provide beds over 33 nights and 446 separate stays in total.
Data from the winter months seem to suggest a decrease in numbers of rough-sleepers requiring immediate housing. The council recorded that the number of people seeking shelter in a month in Oxford reduced from 84 in September to 58 in February with the number of people new to rough sleeping falling from 36 to 16. However, these numbers are expected to rise moving into the summer as winter funding from central government ends and the Oxford Winter Night Shelter begins its annual closure.
The City Council is also addressing housing for refugees by pledging to offer six new affordable homes. The homes, reserved for five Ukranian families and an Afghan family from a bridging hotel, will be let at social rent.
The council expects that the Local Authority Housing Fund (LAHF) will provide up to £1,108,620 in grant funding from the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC). Alongside match funding from the Housing Revenue Account, this will enable the City Council to purchase six homes and offer them to six families. The Council says this move represents their “long term interest in affordable housing”.
A council spokesperson told Cherwell that they have already received 30% of the funding for the project and will receive the rest in July, provided the conditions of the DLUHC are met.
Councillor Linda Smith, cabinet member for housing, said that “Oxford is a proud city of sanctuary and we’re committed to doing what we can to support refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine”. The homes set aside for six refugee families will, once the initial tenancies end, become council homes for those on the general needs housing register.
Under the Homes for Ukraine Scheme, Oxford has housed 400 refugees out of 150,000 nationally and under the national Afghan Resettlement Scheme, the city supported 47 families. The national Afghan Resettlement Scheme provides support for Afghans who have worked alongside the British government and armed forces.
This comes amid reports of Oxford’s extortionate and rising prices.