Oxford City Council (OCC) has announced that it expects 20 hotel rooms to be made available to be used as emergency shelter until the end of March for people sleeping rough in Oxford.

In a statement, OCC said that the new accommodation is expected to be available by the end of the week.

Earlier this month, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government announced £10 million in new funding for English councils to “redouble their efforts” to protect rough sleepers, who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

The rooms will be offered to people experiencing rough sleeping, including those who have previously refused support or returned to the streets, and to the newly homeless.

OCC is also providing support to help people move into more settled housing, as well as arranging food and essential supplies for rough sleepers.

In addition, the Council announced that it is working with the NHS to ensure that homeless people have access to COVID testing, and to register them with a local GP. It added: “Planning is underway for people with experience of rough sleeping and staff in outreach and homelessness services to be included in priority groups for vaccination.”

Councillor Mike Rowley, OCC Cabinet member for housing the homeless said: “Vaccination rollout is still in its early stages and cases in Oxford have surged since the end of November. This makes it more important than ever that we can do what we can to ensure nobody should have to sleep rough on our streets.”

The announcement follows news in December that OCC is increasing its investment in preventing homelessness and rough sleeping to £9.1m for the 2021/22 year in response to the pandemic, 44% higher than 2019/20.

OCC has housed 303 people since March 2020 through the Next Steps Accommodation Programme, 134 of whom have been helped to move into more permanent housing. This was a response to a national Government directive to English councils, ordering them to ensure that all homeless people were offered safe emergency indoor housing during the pandemic.

In July, OCC declared “no return to rough sleeping” and secured the lease to the Canterbury House student accommodation on Cowley Road, providing 124 rooms for emergency interim housing.

The Council said that the 20 new hotel rooms will help to “mitigate increased pressure on homelessness services as a result of the pandemic.”

The Blue has contacted Cllr Rowley for further comment.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Max Spokes

Max (he/him) was formerly Environment News Editor and Climate Columnist at The Blue. He is in his final year studying History and Politics at Balliol.