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 from tonight (Friday 9 April) until Monday morning (12 April).
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.
With the UK in the grip of unseasonably low temperatures, the Council is extending its SWEP provision beyond its statutory 29 March closing date.
The forecast is for freezing overnight temperatures tomorrow and Sunday night.
SWEP will open today to extend the opportunity for those needing provision to access beds. Staff are available to allocate beds today, helping to ensure no one sleeps outside this weekend.
SWEP will probably close on Monday given the current forecast of warmer overnight temperatures. 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. Over the course of the winter 67 individuals have taken a SWEP room.
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 SWEP rooms in three venues, and there are contingency plans to provide more if the need arises. The use of communal spaces will only be considered in exceptional circumstances.
The council has offered safe accommodation to everyone experiencing rough sleeping in Oxford since the first national lockdown and people accessing SWEP are likely to have refused all previous offers of help, returned to the streets or be newly homeless.
On 26 March there were 13 people experiencing rough sleeping in Oxford. Four of these had become homeless in the last seven days and two had returned to the streets.