With winter approaching, Oxford City Council has confirmed arrangements for offering emergency beds to people experiencing rough sleeping.
The council activates its severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP) during freezing winter weather and makes beds available for anyone who wants to come inside.
Until last winter SWEP beds were provided in shared sleeping spaces but the council believed it was not possible to do so in a Covid-safe way due to the high risk of transmission. As a result, people wanting a SWEP bed were given their own room for the night.
Working with St Mungo’s and Homeless Oxfordshire, the council has secured a minimum of 30 bed spaces across two venues in central Oxford. This includes 25 self-contained rooms and if it is necessary to use communal areas they will not be used by more than one person.
The council believes that there are sufficient beds to meet potential demand given that no more than 18 people took up the offer of a SWEP bed on any one night last winter.
Contingency plans are in place to provide more beds if the need arises. The council will only consider asking SWEP providers to use communal areas more intensively in exceptional circumstances.
Prolonged freezing spells and unseasonably low temperatures persisting into mid-April meant that SWEP was activated on 48 nights last winter – beating the previous record of 47 nights in 2012/13.
This included the longest ever continuous period of 19 nights between 23 December and the morning of 11 January. SWEP was open for 12 consecutive nights in March and April 2013 and again in 2018, when the Beast from the East gripped the country in February and March.
15 April was the latest date that SWEP has ever been activated and 2021 was also only the second year emergency beds have been needed in April – in 2013, SWEP was open for the last time on 6 April.
The number of people taking a SWEP bed on any one night varied between three and 18 people, with 73 individuals using SWEP for a total of 397 stays.
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 accommodation and support.
The council will activate SWEP on every night the Met Office forecasts freezing overnight temperatures. It also uses its discretion to open emergency beds 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 prolonged freezing spell.
The St Mungo’s outreach and assessment team 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 will be able to present at O'Hanlon House between 11 pm and midnight.
One of the SWEP venues is suitable for people with dogs and St Mungo’s can also arrange free kennels if necessary. Kennels must be arranged in advance and are not available on the night.
“SWEP relies on staff and volunteers in Oxford’s homelessness services stepping up and taking on extra shifts on top of their day jobs, and I’m grateful to St Mungo’s and Homeless Oxfordshire for helping us to provide emergency beds during severe weather this winter.
“St Mungo’s is working intensively with people experiencing rough sleeping and will allocate SWEP rooms during the day, telling people how to access the service and where and when to go. If you are concerned about someone experiencing rough sleeping, you can contact St Mungo’s on 07590 862049 or by emailing Outreach.Oxford@mungos.org.”
Councillor Diko Blackings, cabinet member for affordable housing, housing security and housing the homeless
“Our outreach teams work with people who are rough sleeping on a daily basis and are in regular contact, working hard behind the scenes to identify suitable accommodation all year round. SWEP is an emergency response to prevent people from dying or developing serious health conditions during extreme weather. This is a temporary situation, to ensure that people have access to warm, safe and appropriate accommodation, however we also look to ensure that our clients remain in the accommodation, in order for us to arrange move-on accommodation and prevent a return to a period of rough sleeping. Sleeping rough is harmful and dangerous at any time of the year and we would ask anyone who is concerned about a person they see rough sleeping to use the Streetlink app or website and make a referral.”
Matt Rudd, regional manager for St Mungo’s in Oxford