Oxford City Council has activated its severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP) and is opening emergency beds for people experiencing rough sleeping tonight (Monday 18 November).
SWEP is emergency accommodation for anyone experiencing rough sleeping – including people who have no local connection to Oxford, no right to claim benefits or housing in the UK or who have refused offers of accommodation and support.
SWEP on every freezing night
Until this year, the council – in common with most other councils – activated SWEP on the first night of a Met Office forecast that the overnight temperature would fall to zero or below on three or more consecutive nights.
For the first time, this winter SWEP beds are available for anyone who wants to come inside whenever the Met Office forecasts an overnight temperature of zero or below for one night.
The council will also use its discretion to open emergency beds in other severe weather conditions. These can include snow on the ground, sub-zero “feels like” temperatures or a warmer night during a prolonged freezing spell.
Tuesday 19 November
The overnight forecast for Tuesday night and Wednesday morning (19 and 20 November) is for the temperature to rise above zero, and the council therefore expects that SWEP will close on Tuesday morning.
Improving allocation of SWEP spaces
In previous years, people would have to present at O’Hanlon House between 9pm and 9:30pm on every night SWEP was activated before they knew where their bed for the night was.
This winter, outreach and assessment services will allocate SWEP spaces to people during the day and notify them where and when they need to go. This means that they can go straight to their SWEP venue and will not necessarily have to attend O’Hanlon House.
The new process will reduce pressure on services provided at O’Hanlon House and improve the SWEP experience for people experiencing homelessness. The most popular suggestion for improvement from people who used SWEP last winter was not having to register every night emergency beds were available.
Free kennels will be available for people sleeping rough who own dogs. Kennelling must be arranged in advance.
Referrals from neighbouring districts
The council will also be working more closely with neighbouring district councils to ensure that everyone in Oxfordshire who needs an emergency bed can access one. The districts can refer people sleeping rough to SWEP beds in Oxford if they are unable to accommodate them in their areas.
Other winter provision
The council hopes there will be less need for SWEP beds this winter given that it has opened two new homelessness services in the last month.
The Somewhere Safe to Stay service offers 12 beds for up to seven nights to people who are newly homeless or at risk of rough sleeping while they participate in an intensive “right first time” assessment that identifies suitable housing and links them with the other support they need to leave homelessness behind.
A shelter offering winterlong accommodation for up to 13 people experiencing rough sleeping is also now open. The winter shelter is available to anyone, even if they do not have a local connection to Oxford or recourse to public funds. Referrals to the winter shelter must be made via the outreach and assessment team, OxSPOT.
Both new services are operating on an interim basis out of Simon House while the council completes the conversion of 1 Floyds Row into a new engagement and assessment centre and shelter for up to 56 people. They will transfer to Floyds Row when the first phase of the conversion is completed in January.
Churches Together in Oxford will also offer 20 beds for verified rough sleepers in the Oxford Winter Night Shelter (OWNS). OWNS opens at New Year and closes at the end of March.
“This winter we’re activating SWEP beds every night the temperature is forecast to hit zero. We’ve also listened to SWEP users who told us at the end of last winter that they didn’t want to register at O’Hanlon House every night. We’ve streamlined the registration process and will be telling people during the day where they’ll be sleeping if they want to come inside tonight.”
Stephen Clarke, head of housing services
Detailed information is available on the SWEP pages of our website.