Since the government directed councils to get ‘everyone in’ at the start of the first lockdown, Oxford City Council and its St Mungo’s outreach team OxSPOT have offered housing and support to everybody experiencing rough sleeping in the city.
Some people have been unable to accept this support and remained on the streets, others have returned there from emergency housing, and there has been a steady flow of people becoming street homeless for the first time throughout the pandemic.
As a result, the council has again made arrangements to offer extra emergency winter beds to anyone who wants to come inside during freezing winter conditions. It will activate its severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP) whenever the Met Office predicts sub-zero overnight temperatures, and OxSPOT will offer help to everyone on the streets.
In this pandemic year, SWEP is different. The council feels it is not possible to provide safe accommodation in communal spaces as was the case before Covid-19, and so will offer individual rooms to people. Thanks to Aspire, OxSPOT and Homeless Oxfordshire there will be 22 SWEP rooms across three venues and contingency plans are in place to provide more if needed.
Services over Christmas and the New Year
The pandemic has touched every aspect of life in 2020 and Christmas festivities are no exception. People experiencing homelessness often have long-term health conditions that make them more susceptible to the effects of the virus, even if social distancing requirements weren’t also in place. There will nonetheless be ways for communities to celebrate Christmas for everyone.
The Oxford Christmas Lunch is usually a communal celebration held in the King’s Centre in Osney, using food saved from going to waste by Oxford Food Bank. This year, Oxford Christmas Lunch will be cooking hundreds of roast dinners on Christmas Day and delivering them all over Oxfordshire to those in need or who will be alone. Oxford Christmas Lunch is looking for volunteers with cars to help with delivery, and people who are interested in helping out can contact them through Facebook Messenger or by emailing email@example.com.
Oxford Homeless Project has been unable to provide its regular fortnightly curry lunch for the community, including those experiencing homelessness, since March. This year, the team is working with East Oxford Community Centre to deliver 100 Christmas hampers and gifts to its friends and families in need in East Oxford.
Oxford City Council has 118 rooms of interim housing for people who had been experiencing rough sleeping or were living in shared hostels before the March lockdown. OHM volunteer partners Help for the Homeless in Oxfordshire and the Gatehouse will be delivering Christmas hampers and Christmas decorations to interim housing venues.
Crisis Skylight Oxford will also be offering Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve takeaway between 9am and 11am from its base at 40 George Street, Oxford.
Some services are running restricted opening hours over the Christmas and New Year period. Details are on the OHM website at www.oxfordshirehomelessmovement.org/christmas-services.
Donate to our Christmas appeal
OHM is running its third Christmas appeal to help raise funds to find lasting solutions to homelessness and fill the gaps that other services can’t. For example, during the first lockdown it helped people in emergency housing keep in touch with their support workers online when they couldn’t meet face to face, and later equipped interim housing with the finishing touches that made it feel like home.
Between Tuesday 8 December and Friday 8 January, Oxfordshire Community Foundation (OCF) is pledging to match the first £20,000 of donations to OHM.
OCF’s pledge to double the difference will apply to both one-off and repeat donations made during the Christmas period. When eligible for Gift Aid, a typical £30 donation will be worth £67.50.
You can donate online at www.oxfordshirehomelessmovement.org/donate or by sending a cheque to Oxfordshire Homeless Movement, PO Box 941, Oxford OX1 9TQ.
Jane Cranston, chair of Oxfordshire Homeless Movement, said: “This has been a difficult and different year for everybody. In these times, it is more important than ever that we work together to protect one another as a community. In 2020, people coming together has been a little light in the darkness. This winter, we are once again working with our partners to give vulnerable rough sleepers the support they need. Our commitment is to reduce hardship and empower people to make positive choices. More than ever, it is absolutely vital that we do this collectively, because together, we can truly transform people’s lives. Thank you so much to everyone who supports this movement.”