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What does homelessness mean?

The sleeping bag in the shop doorway is probably the first image that comes to mind. But sleeping rough is just one aspect of homelessness.

It’s a very precise word. Homelessness simply means living without a home. And none of the following count as a home:

  • Shelters
  • Temporary accommodation
  • Sofa surfing
  • Emergency B&Bs

If you’ve visited any of the above, you’ll know that they keep out most of the cold and wet, but they are not a place you can call home. 

The journey to a proper home is our main focus.

Think of yourself as a helping hand on that journey.

The homelessness challenge

A lot of work is carried out in Oxfordshire to address homelessness, often under the public radar. Many people who were previously rough sleeping have since been helped into next-step accommodation.

But that doesn’t mean they’ve found a home. The actual number of homeless people in Oxfordshire, rather than just people sleeping rough, has not altered significantly over the last two years.

Who is homeless?

People who are homeless are no different from you. It’s too easy to view homelessness as something ‘other’, to think in terms of tags rather than in terms of people.

It’s also common for homelessness to be viewed as an individual rather than a collective problem – a series of bad decisions or irresponsible actions. With this mindset, the only solutions are clean beds and hot meals, addressing the problem in isolation from its causes.

However, homelessness is directly linked to larger structural forces, such as rising housing costs and the strength of our social security net. Clean beds and hot meals alone do nothing to alter these grim facts.

One rough sleeper described their start in life as “the merry-go-round ride from hell that you just can’t get off”. Oxfordshire Homeless Movement will help people leave that nightmare merry-go-round.

No one wants to be defined by their difficulties rather than their aspirations and individuality

Rough sleeping – the tip of the iceberg

Rough sleeping is the most visible element of the homelessness jigsaw, but it's just the in-your-face part of a much bigger issue.

People often end up sleeping rough through no fault of their own, for a variety of reasons:

  • Many have been left behind due to economic factors such as lack of affordable accommodation, welfare cutbacks, and cuts to services such as mental health and social care as part of the ‘austerity’ drive.
  • Some homeless people endured dysfunctional and abusive childhoods.
  • Several have experienced relationship breakdown, loss of work, debt, alcohol or substance misuse.
  • Some homeless people have been 'looked after' for so long in the armed forces or prison, for example – that they find it hard to adjust afterwards.
  • The ‘no local connection’ policy prevents people gaining access to some services, including housing, if they have no roots in the area. Some may have moved to Oxfordshire because they found insufficient support in their previous location.
  • Homelessness affects people's physical and mental health, so the longer someone is in this situation, the greater the risks.
  • Mental health issues often exacerbate other problems.

Rough sleeping – no choice?

Many rough sleepers are keen to follow a path away from the streets and homelessness. Others become or remain homeless because that pathway represents hurdles, challenges and threats far greater than a park bench or shop doorway.

  • In Oxfordshire, the services find it hard to engage with up to 40% of the people sleeping rough.
  • Some have been previously let down or have no trust in the system ultimately delivering change for them, and so don’t see the point.
  • Some are trying to escape or forget the traumas of their life through alcohol and/or drugs, and judge this to be easier, or preferable, to dealing with the trauma and moving on.
  • Others display chaotic behaviour that makes engagement difficult. Many have mental health issues, and many have additional support needs due to substance misuse.

OHM's ultimate goal is to eliminate homelessness. To deliver empowerment, and to help people fulfil their aspirations.

Is there a better way?

Crisis, Oxfordshire County Council and the five district councils have jointly funded and commissioned a feasibility study which proposes how the homelessness and housing system in Oxfordshire could become more ‘housing led’. Housing led approaches or what is also known as ‘rapid rehousing’ is an approach to ending someone’s homelessness by moving them into their own home as soon as possible. It operates under the guiding principle that everyone has a right to a home and does not rely on the condition that someone must be tenancy ‘ready’ before being offered their own home.

This piece of research forms part of a programme of work aiming to answer the question of whether there is a better way for Oxfordshire to deliver services to end homelessness for single people.

The study is now complete and consulted widely across Oxfordshire, the Crisis website explains about the study in full.

You can read all about the Oxfordshire Feasibility Study and download the reports by clicking on the summary or the full report.