Oxford City Council, in conjunction with Aspire, will receive over £1 million from the UK Government to aid its fight to prevent homeless people from having to return to the city’s streets amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

In a press release, the City Council said that almost £900,000 of the new funding will go towards the provision of interim housing, while a further £142,000 will help Aspire to renovate empty properties as “move-on accommodation” for homeless people.

Aspire is a charity based in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire that works to empower homeless people to find employment and housing. The City Council and Aspire won the funding through an application to the Government’s Next Steps Accommodation Programme (NSAP).

Following the UK Government’s ‘Everyone In’ order in March, Oxford City Council worked with university colleges and hotels to find rooms for emergency housing. Soon after the Government’s announcement, the Council announced that it had secured 121 rooms and, in July, it secured 124 rooms through a new lease on Canterbury House student accommodation.

The interim housing funded by the new grant will help those living in emergency accommodation to progress into more long-term housing. The City Council says that it has housed 241 people throughout the pandemic, of which 93 have been supported into more permanent accommodation.

Speaking to The Oxford Blue, Councillor Mike Rowley, the Cabinet Member for Affordable Housing and Housing the Homeless, said that “the important thing is to work with each individual as an individual – there’s no one size fits all solution.”

“We offer help with finding a home, deposits and guarantees; advice on benefits; short-term “discretionary housing payments” to top up benefits in an absolute emergency to stop someone losing their home; referral to specialist services if needed; and with our partners such as Aspire, Crisis and Homeless Oxfordshire, access to training and help finding a job.”

Asked if the Council expects Oxford University to continue supporting the Council’s efforts to prevent local homelessness, Cllr Rowley said: “I certainly hope so. University College have been very helpful, as has the Saïd Business School, and I strongly encourage others to come forward.”

“Eliminating homelessness in our city is in everyone’s interest.”

In a statement on the City Council’s website, Paul Roberts, the CEO of Aspire, said that a “continued partnership” with Oxford City Council would “help prevent a return to pre-Covid levels of homelessness in Oxford.”

Local councils will now be concerned by surging coronavirus cases across the UK and looking to find emergency accommodation for those homeless people who have not yet been able to access more long-term housing.

Cllr Rowley told The Blue that the new funding will allow Oxford City Council to fund safe individual rooms within emergency accommodation, rather than communal sleeping areas that risk the transmission of COVID-19.

Oliver Shaw

Oliver (he/him) is one of the Editors-in-Chief of The Oxford Blue for the winter vacation and Hilary 2021. Oliver is from Warwickshire and is in his final year studying History at Merton College.