Q. What does it mean to be homeless?
A. Homeless people have no permanent home or address. They may sleep on the street, in disused buildings, or in night shelters and other temporary accommodation. They might also be ‘sofa surfing’ on friends' floors.
Q. How do people become homeless?
A. Homelessness affects lots of different people. Some people become homeless because they have experienced mental health problems, drug or alcohol misuse, domestic violence or abuse, unemployment or family breakdown. People who are particularly vulnerable to becoming homeless include young people leaving care, people living on benefits or low incomes, ex-military personnel, ex-offenders, and asylum seekers or refugees.
Q. What issues do homeless people face?
A. Because homeless people don't have a permanent home or address, they are often excluded from being part of society. For example, they often have difficulty accessing GPs and dentists, claiming benefits and finding out about useful information, such as training opportunities for unemployed people. Being homeless is unhealthy in itself – the life expectancy of a rough sleeper is significantly lower than the national average.
Q. How does it feel to be homeless?
A. There is no single answer to this question. Each individual situation is different and so people will feel differently about being homeless. Homeless people report a range of feelings including fear, insecurity, alienation, confusion, loss of self-esteem and anger. A common feeling is powerlessness: homeless people often feel they have been rejected by society and have no rights.
Q. How long are people homeless?
A. There is a national shortage of decent housing and most housing associations have long lists of people waiting for homes. In addition, some homeless people have issues such as mental ill health or drug misuse that make it very difficult for them to find suitable permanent housing. For most people, homelessness is a temporary situation but for some it becomes a way of life.
Q. What is the government doing about homelessness?
A. Housing is currently higher on the government agenda than it has been for decades. A government department coordinates all work with homeless people and rough sleepers in England and Wales. The Department also controls the Supporting People programme, which provides funding to support services for homeless people.
Q. How is Government policy affecting homeless people?
A. The difficult economic climate is hitting homeless people hard. Homelessness is rising as a result of the recession. Also, Housing Benefit is now capped to a level that is lower than average for each area, so private landlords are now far less likely to allow people on benefits to rent properties. The new Universal Credit will affect people who are not used to controlling their money, and will also deter private landlords from renting housing to claimants. Local authorities now control budgets which were previously ringfenced for accommodation-based support. Nationally, this has resulted either in budget reductions or services being closed completely.
The subject of house-building is rising up the government agenda, though there has not been much action so far!
An additional threat is also in the offing. Housing Benefit will be phased out over the next few years and it is not yet clear how rent will be paid to providers of supported accommodation. Rental income is vital in maintaining homelessness services, so any cut to this could be very damaging.
Homelessness in Oxford
Q. How many homeless people are there in Oxford?
A. About 56 homeless people aged 22 and over use our emergency accommodation at O'Hanlon House each night. About 20 young people use the emergency accommodation run by One Foot Forward. In addition, several people sleep rough each night. More people sleep rough in Oxford than most places in the UK, excluding Central London.
Q. Why do homeless people come to Oxford?
A. Some homeless people have connections with Oxford, and choose to stay or return here. Others come here because it is an attractive city. People such as asylum seekers, refugees, ex-offenders and young people leaving care may end up in Oxford through circumstances beyond their control. In Oxford, services for homeless people are now restricted to those who have a personal connection to the county or can demonstrate that they have no alternative options elsewhere in the UK. New arrivals are subject to Oxford City Council's Reconnection Policy.
Q. Who uses O'Hanlon House?
A. A broad range of people use our emergency accommodation at O'Hanlon House, including those who have newly become homeless and need a safe place to stay until they get back on their feet. Some people usually sleep rough and use O'Hanlon House when it is very cold. Our research shows that about 30% of our residents have mental health issues. Approximately 40% misuse hard drugs and 30% have serious alcohol problems. Life expectancy for rough sleepers is 42 years (2002 estimate), which is significantly lower than for the rest of the population.
Q. How long do people stay at O'Hanlon House?
A. O’Hanlon House is primarily an Assessment Centre for rough sleepers at their start of their journey through homeless services. The aim is to keep them in services for a short a time as possible. The maximum stay in the Assessment Centre part of O’Hanlon House is 4 weeks. Some people with complex needs are able to stay for between 6 and 9 months.
Q. What are the local authorities doing about homelessness in Oxford?
A. Homeless Oxfordshire receives funding and support from Oxford City Council, Oxfordshire County Council and Oxfordshire Primary Care Trust. We work in partnership with other service providers and funders to try to find sustainable solutions to homelessness. We influence and inform Oxford City Council's Homelessness Strategy, which is updated regularly. Oxford City Council's Housing Options department provides advice and assistance for homeless people.
How can I help?
Q. Should I give money to a person who is begging on the street?
A. It's your choice whether or not to give money to people who are begging on the street. However, our experience tells us that most people who beg are likely to spend the money on drugs or alcohol rather than something positive. We know that many people begging in Oxford will say it is for their rent at “the Night Shelter” (as O’Hanlon House was previously called). This is rarely the case as most of our residents arrange to pay directly from their benefits. Also, we almost never turn people away because they do not have the money to pay.
If you want to give money to help the homeless, we would suggest you give to Homeless Oxfordshire directly. All money donated in this way will help pay for the services we provide to homeless people.
Q. How can I donate money to Homeless Oxfordshire? And how will you spend my donation?
Your donation will help us to supply the little things that mean a lot to people who are homeless, such as our New Arrival Kit (comprising toiletries, underwear and use of laundry facilities) that we try to provide for each person who comes to O'Hanlon House.
Q. Can I donate clothing and other items?
A. Many homeless people don't even have a change of clothes or their own toothbrush. Your contributions are gratefully received but we have very limited storage facilities so please phone 01865 304697 to check if we are able to receive them.
Q. Can I help by volunteering?
A. Yes, you could help in a variety of ways, such as helping to run a training course, or helping homeless people get to vital appointments.
Please visit the Volunteering page for details.