Skip to main content
Burger menu bars Cross to close menu

Bringing people inside during the pandemic

On 26 March 2020, the government issued an ‘everyone in’ direction for English councils to provide emergency housing for rough sleepers and vulnerable homeless people to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. In Oxford, this included people sleeping on the streets, those in Floyds Row and in the sit up (assessment) service at O’Hanlon House. Oxford City Council secured 124 rooms of interim housing for 2020, meaning that former rough sleepers currently housed in hotels and student blocks did not return to the streets.

The council reached an agreement with A2Dominion to lease Canterbury House, previously part of Oxford Brookes’ student accommodation, until July 2021. It also extended its lease on the YHA until the end of March 2021. Partners from Oxfordshire Homeless Movement (OHM) working to support residents with practical equipment, as well as advice and counselling to help them make the most of the opportunity that presented to end their homelessness for good.

Interim housing is a bridge between emergency lockdown arrangements and more sustainable housing. The extension of Canterbury House and YHA leases, meant the council was able to maintain accommodation for people housed during lockdown as existing agreements with hotels and colleges came to an end.

With the help of a wonderful band of volunteers, OHM coordinated practical support for the new Canterbury House residents, by collecting together 76 kitchen packs and promoting an Amazon wish list from which supporters bought equipment. 

A total of 203 people were housed in hotel and student rooms in Oxford over the first four months of the pandemic. Of these, 76 were supported into more permanent housing, and this included a number of people who had been sleeping rough on a long-term basis. Consolidating the current patchwork of hotel and student rooms into two main locations made it easier to provide intensive personal support that helps more people off the streets for good.

Jane Cranston, Chair of Oxfordshire Homeless Movement, said “OHM is all about partnership, and we’re absolutely delighted that Oxford Brookes University and University College, Oxford have been able to step up and support Oxford City Council and A2 Dominion at this crucial time. Their commitment gives the Council and all the local supporting agencies a much-needed extension in time to work towards finding long-term, sustainable solutions for those who had previously been sleeping rough on the streets of Oxfordshire.”

As temporary accommodation at Canterbury House had to be handed back, five people with no recourse to public funds were at risk of returning to rough sleeping. Thanks to a rapid response from University College and other partners in Oxfordshire Homeless Movement, these people were safely housed.

Having tried to secure accommodation in the weeks prior to closure to no avail, on the day the lease on Canterbury House ended OHM Project Manager Yvonne Pinner made an urgent phone call to Angela Unsworth, Domestic Bursar at University College. Angela sits on OHM’s steering group representing Oxford University.

Angela came back extraordinarily quickly with a house and authority to use it until September 2021, which it was hoped would give the Movement valuable time to find a more permanent solution. OHM immediately mobilised its partners to move the five guests in:

  • University College gave over a house free of charge, with ensuite facilities for each room, paid for all utilities and provided key items such as white goods. They arranged for the property to be cleaned, and alongside housing workers from Connection Support welcomed all the guests on the day they arrived
  • Connection Support provided 1-2-1 assistance needed for guests while they were staying in Univ’s property
  • Aspire quickly arranged the necessary licence agreements with University College and the guests
  • The Gatehouse provided a large starter food pack and other necessities and delivered weekly food parcels for each guest during their stay
  • St Mungo’s provided advice and arranged for the five guests to be transported from Canterbury House to their new residence
  • Asylum Welcome gave crucial background information on the five guests to ensure their specific support needs could be met

Jane Cranston, OHM Chair, stated: “This is a truly fabulous example of what working together can do – and so quickly! It shows that people and organisations everywhere are motivated by their common humanity – but also that drive, trust and collaboration really do make good things happen. I have to give a particular thank you to Yvonne, who had a sleepless night wondering what she could do to stop these five people ending up on the streets. The next step is long-term accommodation – but this provides a valuable breathing space.”

Thanks to this excellent example of collaboration, these people all went on to be housed and supported as part of OHM’s NRPF project.

All five guests have now been helped to apply for their status with four pending an outcome and one having already been granted refugee status.

One guest has moved on from the project and is staying with a friend elsewhere in the UK and the other four are being housed and supported by the project in properties across Oxfordshire provided on a peppercorn rent to OHM by South Oxfordshire Housing Association (Soha).

All four guests are volunteering for local charities and three are also gaining work experience in hospitality, health and beauty and the building trade. If his status is regularised, one is looking to study law at Ruskin College.

Yvonne Pinner accepts a High Sheriff's Award from Amanda Ponsonby in March 2021

In order to ensure that we are able to continue to implement projects like these, please consider making a regular or one-off donation.