Emergency beds for people experiencing rough sleeping will open again tonight as Oxford City Council has activated its severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP).
SWEP is emergency accommodation for anyone experiencing rough sleeping – including people who have no right to claim benefits or housing in the UK or who have refused offers of accommodation and support.
In previous years this was provided in shared spaces but the need to keep people safe during the pandemic means they are now offered their own room for the night.
The council activates SWEP on every night the Met Office forecasts freezing overnight temperatures. It also uses its discretion to do so in other severe weather conditions. These can include snow on the ground, sub-zero ‘feels like’ temperatures or a warmer night in the middle of a freezing spell.
The council will decide whether or not to extend SWEP tomorrow morning (Wednesday 13 January). The current Met Office forecast suggests that overnight temperatures will rise above zero and that SWEP will close.
Allocating SWEP rooms
The St Mungo’s outreach and assessment team (OxSPOT) is already working intensively with people experiencing rough sleeping in Oxford. OxSPOT will allocate SWEP rooms to people during the day and notify them where and when they need to go.
People who have not been allocated a SWEP room in advance will be able to present at O'Hanlon House between 11pm and midnight.
One of the SWEP venues is suitable for people with dogs and OxSPOT can also arrange free kennels if necessary. Kennels must be arranged in advance and are not available on the night.
SWEP and the pandemic
Until this winter SWEP beds were provided in shared sleeping spaces and government guidance says that councils can continue to do this where they believe SWEP can be provided in a Covid-safe manner.
However, the council believes this is not a realistic option given national lockdown and that there is a high risk of transmission in shared spaces. During the first lockdown vulnerable homeless people in England were moved out of shared hostels and this resulted in an infection rate of around 6-8%, whereas in American homeless shelters – where communal spaces remained open – the infection rate was between 60 and 70%.
Working with St Mungo’s, Aspire and Homeless Oxfordshire, the council has secured 25 rooms across three venues and contingency plans are in place to provide more if the need arises.
The council has offered safe accommodation to everyone experiencing rough sleeping in Oxford since March and people accessing SWEP this winter are likely to have refused all previous offers of help, returned to the streets or be newly homeless.
The use of communal spaces will only be considered in exceptional circumstances.
"We’ve activated SWEP, which means that emergency accommodation will be available tonight for anyone experiencing rough sleeping who wants to come inside. The current Met Office forecast suggests that this will be for one night as overnight temperatures are set to rise from tomorrow, but we will keep the situation under review and make a decision on Wednesday morning.”
Councillor Mike Rowley, cabinet member for affordable housing and housing the homeless
If you are concerned about someone experiencing rough sleeping
If you are concerned about someone experiencing rough sleeping, you can contact OxSPOT on 07590 862049 or by emailing [email protected].
OxSPOT is not an emergency service, but it will follow up all calls and emails as soon as possible.
You can also report a rough sleeper through the StreetLink website or call StreetLink on 0300 500 0914.
If you think someone’s life is in immediate danger, call 999.