New arrangements for emergency beds pass first winter test

Published: Wednesday, 27th November 2019

New arrangements for providing emergency beds to rough sleepers during severe winter weather were put into effect last week when overnight temperatures dipped below zero – and passed their first test.

The new measures mean that emergency beds will be available more frequently and that it will be easier for people experiencing rough sleeping to access one. Oxford City Council wants housing and support providers, people sleeping rough and the general public to be aware of changes to its severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP) before freezing winter weather properly begins.

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.

Last Monday (18 November) the council activated SWEP when the Met Office forecast the overnight temperature would drop to zero or below.

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 on every night the Met Office forecasts a sub-zero overnight temperature.

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 are allocating SWEP spaces to people during the day and notifying 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 is intended to reduce pressure on services provided at O’Hanlon House and improve the SWEP experience for people experiencing homelessness.

Referrals from neighbouring districts

The council is 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.

SWEP on Monday 18 November

This year’s activation of SWEP is 11 days earlier than the only other time emergency beds have opened in November. This happened in 2016 when SWEP was activated on a three night forecast rather than on one night.

Twenty four people had been allocated a bed in advance, including five people referred from other district councils in Oxfordshire.

On the night, 16 people used a SWEP bed. This included two people who presented at O’Hanlon House at 11pm, meaning that 10 people who had been allocated a bed in advance did not use this.

Feedback from SWEP providers and people experiencing homelessness about new access arrangements was positive. Some SWEP users appreciated the ability to go straight to their venue without having to present at O’Hanlon House first and this in turn reduced pressure on services at the hostel. Providers felt that the new arrangements gave a firmer and more positive basis for SWEP to operate this winter than in previous years.

“We’ve made changes this year by activating SWEP on every night of a freezing overnight temperature forecast and by allocating bed spaces to people in advance. While it’s only one night so far, SWEP ran smoothly last week and we hope this will continue as often as we need to offer emergency beds this winter. ”

Stephen Clarke, head of housing services