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 (Wednesday 14 April) until Friday morning (16 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.
The forecast is for freezing overnight temperatures tonight and tomorrow. SWEP will probably close on Friday given the current forecast of warmer overnight temperatures. The council will keep the situation under review.
Unseasonably low temperatures mean that this is the latest that SWEP has ever been activated and only the second year emergency beds have been needed in April – in 2013, SWEP was open for the last time on 6 April.
Since SWEP was first activated on 23 December 72 individuals have taken a SWEP room.
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 the pandemic SWEP beds were provided in shared sleeping spaces. Under government guidance this is still possible if a council can do so in a COVID-safe manner. However, the council believes this is not a realistic option given the high risk of transmission in shared spaces.
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 9 April there were seven people experiencing rough sleeping in Oxford. One of these had become homeless in the last week and another had returned to the streets.