Oxford City Council has extended its severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP) to keep emergency beds open for people experiencing rough sleeping.
Emergency beds will remain open for anyone who wants to come inside until Friday morning (12 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.
There are yellow warnings for snow until Wednesday with sub-zero overnight temperatures currently forecast until the weekend. The council will review the situation on Friday morning.
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 extending SWEP and continuing to offer emergency shelter for anyone experiencing rough sleeping who wants to come inside.”
“There are yellow warnings for snow tonight, tomorrow and Wednesday night and freezing overnight temperatures currently forecast until the weekend. We’ll review the situation on Friday morning and make a decision on whether to extend SWEP then.
“By Friday morning SWEP will have been open for 34 nights this winter. SWEP is operated by people stepping up to do extra shifts on top of their day jobs and I’d like to thank St Mungo’s, Aspire and Homeless Oxfordshire for the dedication and professionalism that makes SWEP possible.”
Councillor Mike Rowley, cabinet member for affordable housing and housing the homeless