Frequently asked questions
Here are answers to the questions we are most commonly asked about homelessness. You may also wish to read some our recent clients’ stories on our Case studies page. Our Resources page provides information about other organisations that work with homeless people in Oxford.
Part 1: About homelessness
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.
Part 2: Homelessness in Oxford
Q. How many homeless people are there in Oxford?
A. About 56 homeless people aged 25 and over use our O’Hanlon House’s emergency accommodation 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 the rest of the population.
Q. How long do people stay at O’Hanlon House?
A. The length of stay varies from person to person but the average stay is several weeks. Staff support each person in addressing why they are homeless and help them to avoid becoming homeless again in the future. Some clients are referred to O’Hanlon House’s separate Resettlement Floor or to Julian Housing, which supports people who have been homeless and could benefit from additional support before they are able to sustain independent accommodation.
Q. What are the local authorities doing about homelessness in Oxford?
A. Oxford Homeless Pathways 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 and 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.
Part 3: 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. If you want to be sure you are making a positive difference, you can take advantage of our Voucher Scheme, through which you can pay for a night’s shelter and a hot meal for a homeless person.
Q. How can I donate money to Oxford Homeless Pathways? And how will you spend my donation?
By giving £10 a month, you could provide a New Arrival Kit for 12 homeless people each year.
A. You can donate quickly and easily using your credit or debit card through our secure online donations service. You can also arrange a monthly 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 the 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 304600 to check we are able to receive them. Please check the Gifts in kind page for details of the items we most need.
Q. Can I help by volunteering?
A. Yes, you could help with deliveries or organise a collection point at your office or club. Please visit the Volunteering page for details.