For the third weekend in a row, Oxford City Council has activated its severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP) to make emergency beds available for people experiencing rough sleeping.
Emergency beds will now open for anyone who wants to come inside, initially from tonight (Friday 5 February) until Monday morning (8 February).
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.
SWEP will open tonight on a discretionary basis and there are yellow warnings for snow and ice on Saturday and Sunday night. At the moment it looks likely that SWEP will remain open after the weekend as the forecast is for sub-zero overnight temperatures from Sunday night until Thursday morning. The council will review the situation on Monday.
In previous years SWEP 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.
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 can present at O'Hanlon House between 11 pm 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
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 housing and support.
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.
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’re activating SWEP for the third weekend running and offering emergency shelter for anyone experiencing rough sleeping who wants to come inside.”
“We’re opening SWEP tonight on a discretionary basis and there are yellow warnings for snow and ice for the rest of the weekend. Freezing overnight temperatures are currently forecast from Sunday night until at least Thursday morning, but we’ll review the situation on Monday morning and make a decision on whether to extend SWEP then.”
Councillor Mike Rowley, cabinet member for affordable housing and housing the homeless