Freezing weather means emergency beds will open for people experiencing rough sleeping

Published: Friday, 5th March 2021

Oxford City Council has activated its severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP) to make emergency beds available this weekend for people experiencing rough sleeping.

Emergency beds will now open for anyone who wants to come inside from tonight (Friday 5 March) until Monday morning (8 March).

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 and a warmer night in the middle of a freezing spell.

The weekend forecast is for freezing overnight temperatures tonight and Saturday night. The council is using its discretion to keep beds open on Sunday night so that outreach has the opportunity to engage with SWEP users on Monday morning.

SWEP will probably close on Monday as the current outlook is for warmer overnight temperatures for at least the first half of next week. The council will keep the situation under review.

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 the high risk of transmission in shared spaces.

St Mungo’s, Aspire and Homeless Oxfordshire manage a total of 25 SWEP rooms in three venues, and the council has made contingency plans 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 and offering a room for the night for anyone experiencing rough sleeping who wants to come inside this weekend.”

“It’s forecast to be freezing tonight and tomorrow night, and we’re keeping SWEP open for the whole weekend so outreach has the chance to engage with SWEP users on Monday morning. We expect that SWEP will close on Monday morning due to rising overnight temperatures but, as ever, we’ll keep the situation under review.”

Councillor Mike Rowley, cabinet member for affordable housing and housing the homeless

Find out more about SWEP on the council website.