Agenda and draft minutes
Venue: Freemen's Room - Oxford Town Hall. View directions
Contact: Stefan Robinson
Welcome and introductions
Round table introductions were carried out. The Chair explained that the Review Group was first proposed following councillor discussions with local campaign groups and homelessness charities, after a rise in rough sleeping over the last few years. She suggested that the situation was unacceptable, and that more needed to be done to help those in crisis. Other members of the Review Group had also proposed a review on this subject.
To note the scope and purpose of the review agreed by the Scrutiny Committee.
The Group asked that the Scrutiny Officer devise suggestions for improving public awareness of the review. Yvonne Pinner, from the Oxfordshire Community Foundation, said the City Conversation group was working on promoting public engagement on homelessness and rough sleeping matters. Council officers also said work was underway within the council to better engage with the public on this issue.
In response to questions, it was clarified that officers had discussed with the outreach team and carried out desktop research, and there were no known local authority led policies that did not apply local connection criteria. There were however some charities that offered overnight beds to those without a local connection in some parts of the country.
The Housing Strategy and Needs Manager explained that some metropolitan areas in London offered ‘no first night out’ policies that see rough sleepers without a local connection given shelter within 24 hours. Members suggested that some local authorities considered a rough sleeper to have a local connection once they had been living on the streets for 6 months. The Group asked to visit an authority that operated this policy, to see what impact it was having. The Housing Strategy and Needs Manager explained that the Council’s current approach was that a local connection can only be applied to people who have lived in a settled home.
To understand the current provision of services and pathway for homeless people, in line with some of the key questions outlined in the scoping document.
The Housing Strategy and needs manager introduced the report and explained that there was a wide variety of services in Oxford for rough sleepers, most of which were funded by the City Council. Oxfordshire County Council used to have a £3m budget for support services across the County, but this would be reduced to zero in 2020.
The City Council was in a three year pooled funding arrangement with the other Oxfordshire district councils and the County Council. This arrangement was due to expire, and negotiations were underway to extend this for a further two years. There were separate county and city homelessness pathways in operation, but service users would not necessarily know who was funding their bed space.
The City Council’s position had been to maximise the number of beds available for those with a local connection. It was explained that there were significant financial challenges in meeting the needs of those with a local connection, and relaxing the local connection policy without additional funding would lead to a lower level of service for current clients. It was also suggested that relaxing the policy may inadvertently draw numerous rough sleepers from afar to make use of services. Officers also highlighted that it was difficult to secure move-on opportunities for rough sleepers with a local connection, and it would be more difficult and resource intensive for those without a local connection.
In response to questions, the Housing Strategy and needs manager explained that the local connection definition applied to Council policy reflects the definition set out in section 199 of the Housing Act 1996:
A person has a local connection with the district of a local housing authority if he has a connection with it:
a) because he is, or in the past was, normally resident there, and that residence is or was of his own choice,
b) because he is employed there,
c) because of family associations, or
d) because of special circumstances.
This definition was used to decide whether someone could access the adult homelessness pathway or not, and it was also applied to the Council’s criteria for housing register applications. Reconnection support is offered to all, regardless of whether they had a local connection. The pathway connection option enables people who would not otherwise be able to access the adult homeless pathway, to do so, and benefit from supported accommodation. However, their exit route would be more limited as they cannot gain access to local authority housing.
The majority of services commissioned by the City Council require a local connection to be established. However some services, such as the sit up service at O’Hanlon House (which is currently used as an assessment centre) do not require a local connection.
The Housing Strategy and Needs Manager said the City Council recently secured £502,000 from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government to support various initiatives. This funding would be used to set up similar schemes to Oxford Winter Night Shelter, but in neighbouring districts. It would also ... view the full minutes text for item 3.
Approach to engaging with rough sleepers
The review scope identifies a need to engage with rough sleepers. The Review Group is asked to devise an approach to engaging with rough sleepers. Key matters to consider:
· What are we trying to understand from rough sleepers?
· What GDPR, safeguarding and reputational issues need to be considered?
· What connections do colleagues have that may help in gathering feedback from rough sleepers?
The Scrutiny Officer invited the Group to identify how it would go about engaging with rough sleepers, and gathering data to support the review. It was agreed that the group would deploy multiple methods of gathering feedback from rough sleepers, including:
· Inviting former rough sleepers working within existing council networks, such as Aspire, to give evidence to the Group.
· Asking the Oxford Street Population Outreach Team (OxSPOT) to carry out survey interviews on the Group’s behalf.
· Asking various local charity organisations to carry out survey interviews on the Group’s behalf, such as the Gatehouse and ACT.
· Collating anonymised data from Common Assessment Forms, subject to compliance with the appropriate data protection regulations.
· Using data gathered from other ongoing local research projects.
Key issues identified during the discussion included:
· Rough sleepers must be informed of the project aims, how their data will be used, and give expressed consent.
· Only a few questions should be asked to make the research convenient for participants.
· The Group wants to hear from people without a local connection.
· The survey interviews should be carried out by professionals with experience of engaging with rough sleepers.
· Responses may be limited as the Council has no authority to require that other organisations carry out these survey interviews.
· All data should be anonymised.
· Questions should broadly reflect those used in the common assessment forms, as to achieve a level of consistency in the data collected.
The questions would be devised by the Scrutiny Officer and the Chair.
The Group agreed that it wanted to hold two meetings with various guest speakers to ask them questions to help inform their evidence base.
The Group agreed to send invitations to the organisations:
· Aspire Oxford
· Crisis Skylight Oxford and National Policy Director
· Centre for Social Investigation
· Oxford Street Population Outreach (OXSPOT)
· Homeless Oxfordshire
· Oxford Homeless Project
· Luther Street Medical Centre
· Oxford Homeless Lunch
· ACT / St Aldates Church
· Gimme 5
The Group would also invite a written submission from Professor Suza0nne Fitzpatrick, who has led on several Crisis research projects.
It was suggested that officers involved in commissioning services should not be present when members are speaking with commissioned service providers. The Scrutiny Officer would work with the Chair to produce invites for each person and organisation, together with a brief on what they can expect.
The Chair invited officers to comment on the value of the Group’s work. The review was welcome, but resourcing limitations were highlighted. Officers were working to bring forward additional work as it was more timely given the Group’s interest in the local connection policy. Members were also prompted to be aware of the budget implications of any recommendations, and it was suggested that recommendations were more likely to be given serious consideration where the budgeting had been set out by the Group.
The principal next steps were agreed as follows:
· That guests are invited to one of two meetings on either 21 August or 4 September, to answer questions from the Group.
· That work begins on contacting external organisations to undertake survey interviews on the Group’s behalf.
· That a London Local Authority which offers a local connection to rough sleepers after 6 months is identified for a visit by members of the group.
Future meeting dates
Based on the availability received to date, the following dates are proposed:
Tuesday 21 August 2018
Tuesday 4 September 2018
Tuesday 2 October 2018
The Group noted the next meeting dates:
21 August 2018
4 September 2018
2 October 2018
Reports Containing Confidential or Exempt Information
Please note that as a joint Operational Protocol between local authorities, the Common Operational Protocol is confidential under the terms of section 100A(3) of Part VA of the Local Government Act 1972. If the Review Group wishes to exclude the press and the public from the meeting during consideration of this item, it will be necessary to pass a resolution to that effect.