A HOMELESS man from West Oxfordshire who was 'only' offered accommodation in Bristol believes the district must do more for those without a house.

The 20-year-old, called Liam, claims West Oxfordshire District Council needs to provide more extensive support to the homeless and rough sleepers, adding that as a white male he is 'disadvantaged'.

This comes amid calls for more emergency accommodation in the district, even with a large property set to open in Chipping Norton next month.

The homeless are often temporarily placed in bed and breakfasts and hotels, while the council has access to 12 rooms in Oxford and Witney through Oxfordshire Homeless Support.

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The council has set up several initiatives to tackle the problem, but Liam says the accommodation found for him in Bristol is 'not advisable' due to mental health issues.

He has been homeless 'on-and-off' for three years and feels support for individuals must be better.

Liam said: “Being homeless is so hard. It makes me feel like a dog, it makes me feel like everyone’s against me. My mental health is off the scale.

“The only suggestion the council has given me is to rent privately and I can’t afford that.

He added: "Young, white males are at a disadvantage because it is assumed they can fend for themselves."

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Although young, white men are not classed as in 'priority need' under legislation, district council spokesperson Carys Davies said the local authority 'does everything it can to assist everyone that makes them aware that they have a housing need'.

Liam recently attended an emergency appointment with the council's homelessness services.

Under the Homelessness Reduction Act, this gives council 56 days to work with him and try to find alternative settled accommodation.

Applicants will then receive a 'full needs assessment' and a 'personal housing plan', plus referrals to appropriate support agencies and a full discussion of next steps.

Witney Gazette:

A new option is the building in Horsefair, Chipping Norton, which will provide six units of emergency accommodation to reduce the use of bed and breakfasts and hotels.

It was bought by the district council in partnership with Cottsway Housing Association, although this is the only council-owned facility in West Oxfordshire.

Deborah Robson-Grey, founder of Witney-based Homes4All, which aims to shine a light on homelessness in Oxfordshire, says the lack of emergency accommodation is a 'longstanding' problem in the district.

The organisation has helped more than 30 homeless people in West Oxfordshire since 2016 and is currently supporting about 15 individuals, many of whom are under 30-years-old.

Ms Robson-Grey said: “We know of a number of individuals who have been placed in temporary accommodation in B&Bs or hotels because of this lack.”

Witney Gazette:

There is no legal limit for how far away homeless people in West Oxfordshire can be housed, although Ms Davies said efforts are made to keep those with 'daily connections', such as work and school, in the district.

She added: "Sometimes for reasons of safety, such as domestic abuse and on police advice, people need to be accommodated outside the district.

"The legislation asks that council’s keep emergency accommodation offered out of the immediate area under review with a view to moving households nearer to the district as and when it becomes available.

"The Council fully complies with this."

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Andy Graham, district councillor for Charlbury and Finstock, has campaigned for more emergency accommodation and will meet with a housing officer at the council today.

He called Liam's offer of accommodation in Bristol 'so wrong', adding: "What are we doing sending people to a city they don’t know?"

Mr Graham believes assistance should come in the form of a 'helping hand fund', which would make 'immediate cash' available to support rough sleepers and the homeless.

Ms Davies responded that the council follows the approach recommended by major homelessness charities, where 'comprehensive support' means cash payments are not needed.

Mr Graham also criticised West Oxfordshire's latest rough sleeper count, which estimated the number of people in the district had fallen from seven to two year-on-year.

The count takes data from one particular night and is not meant to paint a full picture, but the district councillor claims it is evidence of faulty policy.

Read again: Oxford rough sleeper count estimated to be double street figures

He said: “It’s an appalling use of data because it paints a picture that is useless.

“I’m really concerned we’re data driven rather than action driven.

“We can’t wait for a death before thinking we don’t have the right strategy in place.”

If people see someone sleeping rough in the district they are urged to contact Street Link or the council’s Housing Advice team.

Referrals can be made online, while last April the council appointed its first ‘families first officer’, who is tasked with preventing homelessness before it happens.

The council offers several options to help those threatened with homelessness, including social or private rented accommodation and referral into the Homeless Pathway.

People can also be referred to the council's 'Our House' project launched last year, which sees young, unemployed individuals move into a property to restore it and learn a trade simultaneously.

Steve Good, cabinet member for housing said: “Our housing team supports anyone in need when homelessness is brought about through life’s unexpected challenges often ranging from very complex to the more every-day situations that anyone of us might find themselves in.

“Preventing homelessness is key; we have a dedicated officer post working with people at risk, and we formally link with the prison and health service as they have a duty to refer any potential homelessness cases to us."