Versa can reveal that there is, simply put, a crisis occurring in homelessness in Oxford. Services are being slashed to the bone due to council cuts, while volunteers try to fill the gap. Caught in the middle, people who are forced to live on the streets face abject conditions which have become shamefully normalised in a city known for its abnormally high number of homeless people.
“I am struggling to survive”. Those were the word of Abu Latif, who sleeps rough on the streets of Oxford. You have probably walked past him on many occasions. This is a sentiment echoed by the homeless people who Versa talked to, and those in the volunteer organisations who try to help alleviate their condition. He reported not even being allowed to beg to try and survive, saying that he was often moved on by the police for doing so. Though we cannot confirm that this has occurred to him, we did see him being pressured to move by the private security outside of the shop where we met him shortly after interviewing him. According to a student volunteer from Turl Street Homeless Action who works routinely with Oxford’s homeless, the majority spend their lives “cold and hungry” and with little real human contact. Though there apparently are some “extreme” cases where people are content on the streets, for the majority it degrades them and makes them feel depressed and outside of the community. It is often forgotten that people sleeping on the streets are normal human beings who have fallen on hard times; especially in Oxford those who are without a home appear to be regarded as separate from the community. The reality is very different. Many were looking for work, but have had their benefits sanctioned for minor infractions and so have no money to live on for months. Many of the people helped by Turl Street Homeless Action have work, indeed for example one works as a bouncer. They are still not able to afford the sky high deposits for housing in Oxford. Even if one is able to afford the deposit, the size of waiting lists for housing keep many on the streets. Indeed, according to Jayson Marc-Frater from the Gatehouse, a single man could have to wait up to five years to be able to get into accommodation.
This is occurring while homeless services in Oxford face serious difficulties. The council is handing down severe cuts. This means that many are unable to stay open, indeed two shelters have been forced to close recently. The last closure is said to have displaced an estimated two hundred people. According to Jayson, this means that the night shelter can only take people in for up to four weeks at a time, and has left the Gatehouse around thirty-thousand pounds in debt. With these cuts they cannot sustainably maintain their services. They have been left desperate for volunteers and donations. Some are lucky enough to be able to access services such as the night shelter, and so are able to sleep with a roof over their heads. However the council has mandated that those who have no connection to Oxford, by which is meant no previous residency or family members, are not allowed to access these services. This means that they simply cannot go to places like the night shelter, regardless of how desperate their need might be. Some might not want to go to the shelters however as they see them as dangerous places. People are said to be scared to go there as they can be violent, or fearing that the drug taking that can occur there might cause them to relapse into addiction. Indeed Versa has heard about cases of this from multiple sources. The result of this is scores of people sleeping rough on the streets of Oxford each night, and a problem which is getting worse.
The Oxford City Council refused to comment, even after multiple requests from Versa.
One can find some homeless organisations who work in Oxford below