Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

current issue



Not a local issue

May 28 2009
They‘re taking action on ‘local connection‘ in Oxford They're taking action on 'local connection' in Oxford Homeless people sleeping rough in Oxford are being given train tickets and told to leave town. Only those who can prove that they have a link to the city will be allowed to stay under new council plans. Officials say the hardline policy is designed to combat a surge of homeless 'tourists' who flock to the historic university city, which boasts some of the country's best homeless services. So far, of 1,000 homeless people assessed, around 200 have failed to meet the criteria set by the city's 'Reconnection' programme and have been given a ticket to where they came from. A further 158 appear to have vanished. Graham Stratford, head of community housing at Oxford City Council, said: "We can get as many as five new rough sleepers in the city a week. Oxford is obviously a nicelooking and fairly affluent place, so it is attractive to homeless people and there is a certain amount of homeless tourism going on. "Our officers talk to them to find out why they have come to be here. There is then a process whereby we talk to the services in their area, police and hospitals and work out if it would be safe for them to go back. "If it is, arrangements are made and they are given a warrant which will cover the cost of their travel." He said if a homeless person had a legitimate reason for not going back to their hometown, such as threat of violence or danger, they were offered help. "In some cases, people have been allowed to stay." "If a person's life has improved markedly here, and after a long time they have shown they're really beginning to get back on their feet, we can make exceptions." Film-maker Gordon Wilson, who arrived in the city from Northampton as a rough sleeper 10 years ago, now works on projects with the BBC and Channel 4. He said he owed his life to the help he received in Oxford. "There are a lot of people on the streets in Oxford and I understand the pressure the city council is under, but I don't think just sending them back is the answer. "I don't believe they have the manpower or connections to be able to properly work out why these people are here, or who or what they are running from. And if people want to slip through the net, then it's easily done. "People tried for 15 years to help me, but the services I got here were the only thing that got me back on my feet." Although Oxford's train-ticket scheme is a first, refusing help to homeless people who do not demonstrate a local connection is a policy carried out by council's across the country. The 1996 Housing Act allowed councils to take an individual's local connection into account when deciding who gets priority for social housing. A spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government said: "People can establish a local connection with an area because they work there, because they live there, or have done in the past, because they have family living there, or because of some other special reason. "People accepted as homeless and in priority need who do not have a local connection with the district where they apply for help, may be referred to another authority where they do have a local connection." Council figures show that are more than 170 people are living in hostels in Oxford on a typical night and about another dozen are sleeping rough. The Oxford Night Shelter has to turn people away almost every night. Its director, Lesley Dewhurst, said: "It is very difficult for us to prioritise people when we have maybe two or three spaces and there are 12 or 15 people outside." Staff working with the homeless now meet newcomers and try to find out if they have a connection to Oxfordshire or not. "If they do, they are welcome to stay," said Ms Dewhurst. "If not, the long process begins to try and establish where they might have a connection to and where there might be good support and accommodation for them. "If accommodation with support in the right place is found, we will ask people to return to those places with the train or bus ticket provided." When asked about the policy, one local homeless man, Paul Rigger, said he believed it would help: "There might be more work for us if people go back - it should be for Oxford people - you get people coming from all different places getting all the work."