With homelessness in Oxford growing at an alarming rate, the team at Homes4all Oxfordshire pioneered a drop-in café run out of a local shop. They focus on offering friendship and genuine hospitality. So far, they’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response from the homeless community and the generosity of volunteers.
Here’s their inspiring story of community-led action so far and their future plans.
Homes4All Oxfordshire is a legally constituted small charity. Its primary purpose is to alleviate the misery of homelessness by offering ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can find a warm welcome and access personalized assistance to help address their needs and aspirations in accordance with their own readiness. We accept people without distinction or qualification and have no agendas. The assistance we offer is person-centered; holistic, individualized, and creatively responsive.
Homelessness in Oxfordshire is at crisis levels. The number of individuals who are rough sleeping or otherwise without secure accommodation is increasing at an alarmingly rapid rate. There are many wonderful services and agencies that seek to provide support to these individuals, but they simply have not got sufficient resources to cope with many people who have fallen through the gaps or struggle to engage with a standardized approach. Simultaneously, there is a huge amount of public goodwill to help the homeless, but there was a lack of connection and uncertainty about how to help effectively. Homes4All Oxfordshire sought to marry up the two. We are actively harnessing public support to provide practical and emotional support to enable people in housing need to move forward in their lives.
In the winter of 2017/2018, Homes4All Oxfordshire established and operated a drop-in cafe for the homeless in Oxford City Centre, which was managed by trained volunteers. We have ample evidence that the cafe met a genuine need, providing a place where vulnerable individuals could find nourishment, warmth, and a safe space to simply ‘be’ without there being any agenda or expectations. It was a place where all were accepted irrespective of their past history or current circumstances, where all were comfortable to be themselves and were treated equally with courtesy, dignity, and respect.
We developed relationships based on mutual trust and were able to build on these to offer sign-posting, brokerage, and referrals to other services. Simultaneously, we attracted a huge amount of public respect and generosity, in the form of donations of food, clothing, and money. As a result of this synergy, we witnessed transformations taking place. The feedback that we received from those who accessed the cafe and from the volunteers was overwhelmingly positive.
Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond our control, we had to close the cafe after three weeks; but we remain committed to finding alternative premises to run a similar project on a more permanent basis and we are actively pursuing opportunities for doing so.
On a strategic level, we are actively exploring options for establishing a new cafe facility and are also considering other ways of creating ‘safe spaces’ that would provide overnight accommodation to those in housing crisis (of course, taking into consideration any risks and safeguarding issues).
On an operational level, outreach teams are out on the streets of Oxford on a daily basis engaging with rough sleepers, taking time to learn their stories and identify ways that we can help practically and emotionally. We then respond by giving out donations of clothing and equipment; acting as brokers to connect people up with support agencies and occasionally advocating on their behalf.