As background information, the meeting has been provided with:
· A research report from the Scrutiny Officer. Only members of the Review Group will have access to appendix 1, as this contains information that is exempt from publication under paragraphs 2 and 3 of Part 1, Section 12A, of the Local Government Act 1972.
· Appendix 2 – A report from 19 July review group meeting summarising the current policy context.
· Appendix 3 – An extract of the Crisis analysis of cost savings associated with Housing First initiatives in Liverpool (as referenced at the previous meeting).
Guests will be invited to make any opening statements if they wish. The meeting will then move to questions and open discussion. As of 23 August, confirmed guests include:
· Sue Jackson - Oxford Street Population Outreach Manager
· Elizabeth Edwards – The Big Issue and Homes4All Oxfordshire
· Paul Roberts – Aspire Oxfordshire
· Janine Bailey – Gimme5
· Jeannette Filja - Gimme5
Key questions and themes may include:
a) What are the roles of the Outreach Team, Aspire and Gimme5?
b) How much discretion are outreach workers allowed to support those without a local connection? Does the policy offer flexibility?
c) What proportion of the people you support do not have a local connection?
d) What would be the impact of opening larger parts of the pathway/creating new accommodation provision for those without local connection?
e) Are there opportunities to save money whilst expanding services?
f) What are the best and worst examples from elsewhere of service provision for those without a local connection?
g) What are the barriers to reconnecting people with an area where they have a local connection?
h) The Council currently makes exemptions to the local connection policy for: care leavers, those at risk of violence, those protected under a military covenant, those with no connection to any other area, and those with a clear connection to the County. Are there any other groups that you think should be added to the exemptions list?
i) How effective and accurate do you think central government guidance is on counting and collecting data on rough sleepers?
j) What are the ‘small’ ways the current system for people experiencing homelessness could adapt to make things better?
k) Are there examples where rough sleepers have been let down by the system.
The Review Group asked guests to give their views on the current local connection policy in relation to homelessness services. Jan Bailey, from Gimme5, explained that many people sleeping rough do not have a local connection to Oxford. She had supported one individual in getting to hospital after developing pneumonia, and she supported that person after they were discharged with no accommodation. She said she could not secure funding for that person to travel on the bus to collect their prescriptions, but Sue Jackson, Street Population Outreach Manager, said her team would have been able to support that person. Jan Bailey also said some women sleeping rough were pregnant and there were some elderly rough sleepers with no recourse to public funds. She suggested that a key challenge was having written proof of someone’s local connection.
Sue Jackson added that there were several misconceptions about the services that are available for people sleeping rough, and there were exemptions to the local connection policy for those who were most vulnerable. There were more barriers to helping people with no recourse to public funds than those without a local connection.
Elizabeth Edwards, from the Big Issue and Homes4All Oxfordshire, had some observations about the current local connection policy:
1) Residency: Proving residency is difficult for those people who:
· Are sofa surfing,
· In rehab, prison or hospital
· Living in hostels or other supported accommodation
· Are living without permission in a council property, or
· Have fallen out with their landlord.
2) Family Connection: the criteria would benefit from including connections to children in Oxford. There was an example of one mother being offered accommodation in Bristol when her children were in Oxford.
3) Exemptions: Proving that it is unsafe for someone to return to another area through reconnection is difficult. There were other dangers such as drugs debts that are not evidenced in the same way as domestic violence reports, for example. The exemptions list should also include those with significant mental health challenges.
Sue Jackson explained that there were examples of people being exempt from the local connection criteria due to mental health vulnerabilities. There were also exemptions granted for people who had no local connection to any local authority area. Following questions about the discretionary aspects of the exemptions policy, Sue Jackson explained that she considered the policy flexible enough for the cases that the Outreach Team dealt with. She reiterated that it was those with no recourse to public funds that were the most challenging cases. There was also a lack of facilities in other neighbouring districts.
Sue Jackson said that within the Outreach Team case load (which did not reflect the overall homelessness context in Oxford) 8% had no local connection to Oxfordshire and 14% had a connection to Oxfordshire. In addition, another 16% had no recourse to public funds, and 7% were offered exemptions under the local connection policy. Those with no local connection were a minority of cases. The Review Group noted that further clarity was needed on the proportion of people sleeping rough in Oxford without a local connection as they had received different statistics through the review process. Some guests suggested that the number of people sleeping rough in the City were higher than estimated.
Paul Roberts, Chief Executive Officer of Aspire Oxfordshire, explained that there was a need to expand premises to support European Economic Area (EEA) Nationals, who had no recourse to public funds but had the right to work. He advocated for more engagement with Housing Associations to champion a guardianship model to support people exiting the homelessness pathway. Keeping people engaged through the admin of the local connection policy was difficult, and the process itself was resource intensive. Sue Jackson added that in places like Bristol, whilst there were several direct access hostels, there were limited move-on opportunities for those without a local connection which blocked the pathway.
Boo Sagoo Davies, Housing, Homelessness and Employment Development Worker at Aspire Oxfordshire, explained that some people working with Emmaus were not offered a local connection after a period of time, which they should be under the current policy. Paul Roberts suggested that people should be given a local connection if they are in regular employment or working as a volunteer. Rachel Lawrence, Rough Sleeping and Single Homelessness Manager, clarified that only the City Council can grant a local connection though the Pathway Manager. Other organisations were not able to make that decision.
Elizabeth Edwards said there was a need for better segregation between male and female accommodation services. She said women experienced gender specific vulnerabilities which could be exploited in male dominated hostels. Many female rough sleepers had experienced trauma in their lives which made them fearful of living in same-sex accommodation, and some would prefer not to go into accommodation than be housed with men. There were also fears that some accommodation services increased people’s exposure to substance abuse, and therefore some people would not take an offer of accommodation. Rachel Lawrence explained that a Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) grant had enabled preparations to be made for a 5 bed female only accommodation facility for people with a local connection.
The guests were asked for their view on what the implications would be if the local connection policy were to be scrapped, as recommended in the 2018 ‘How to End Homelessness’ report by Crisis. Councillors also raised the idea of broadening the exemptions criteria in the local connection policy. Councillor Linda Smith, Deputy Leader and Board Member for Housing and Leisure, said the Review Group would need to consider how any such relaxation of the policy would affect those with no recourse to public funds; people who did not have access to housing benefit. She also highlighted that relaxing or removing the local connection policy should not be considered in isolation from the housing allocations scheme.
There was a consensus between guests and councillors that there needed to be paradigm shift from considering people who are homeless as a problem, to considering their potential to contribute to society. Elizabeth Edwards explained that Homeless Link champion a strength based approach to homelessness recovery, where practitioners should consider what strengths someone has and start with the positives.
Sue Jackson explained that for the Outreach Team, the exemptions were open and appropriate. Any relaxation of the policy would need to account for the resources to manage an increase in demand, as and there was already a lack of move-on opportunities for those in the pathway. She said that expanding the exemptions would not be appropriate as a long term solution because it did not guarantee people’s progress and it would mean the pathway would be oversubscribed. Elizabeth Edwards added that whist the intent of relaxing the local connection policy was positive, it may cause more problems for those already in the pathway because of the lack of move-on opportunities.
The Chair invited David Thomas, a member of the public, to address the meeting. He said that in his experience as a former City Councillor, the local connection policy kept people on the street and out of the support system.
The Review Group asked about the prevalence of drug debts among rough sleepers, given that this was a reason people did not want to return to another area, owing to fear of retribution. Sue Jackson said the number of cases was relatively small, and Jan Bailey added that bullying was also a reason for transient homelessness and not wanting to reconnect.
Councillor Aziz said that the Greater Manchester Combined Authority had appointed a homelessness advisor; someone with experience of homelessness who’s role was to engage the view of homeless people in the decision making process. She also raised the issue of reducing services among neighbouring County Councils, and the impact that may have on demand for homelessness services in Oxford.
The Review Group and guests said that one of the challenges for people experiencing homelessness was accessing the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) accommodation when they had many possessions and limited access to transport. There were also challenges for those who had dogs which were not allowed into SWEP accommodation. Sue Jackson clarified that the outreach team were available to offer support on this issue, and kennels were available for dogs.
The Review Group asked Stefan Robinson, Scrutiny Officer, to explain the research he had undertaken on behalf of the Group. He said that 14 local authorities responded to a series of questions concerning their local connection policies. Whilst the majority advocated for a discretionary approach to homelessness support over rigid enforcement of a local connection policy, all local authorities would seek out reconnections to other local authorities where there was no local connection. None of the authorities were forthcoming with written policies on how they ensured fairness in their discretion. It was clarified that to the officer’s knowledge, there were no local authorities that had fully scrapped the local connection criteria, but some applied it more strictly than others. The views of participants in the research suggested that there were much larger pull factors to major cities than a council’s local connection policy, and they were of the view that relaxing the local connection policy would have a marginal impact on rough sleeper numbers.
In discussing options for piloting a short term relaxation or scrapping of the local connection policy, Paul Read, Aspire Oxfordshire, said that there would need to be more resource made available within the Outreach Team. He also said consideration should be given as to whether a pilot would last for a set period of time, or operate only for those already recognised by the outreach team at a set point in time.
- Research Report - Local Connection Policies, item 20. PDF 145 KB View as HTML (20./1) 213 KB
- Appendix 2 - Review Group Report from 19 July, item 20. PDF 107 KB
- Appendix 3 - Housing First Cost Savings - Liverpool, item 20. PDF 220 KB