For the first time this year, Oxford City Council has activated its severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP) for people experiencing rough sleeping.
This means that emergency beds will be available for anyone who wants to come inside tonight (Wednesday 5 January).
Severe weather forecast
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.
The overnight forecast is for the temperature to drop below zero from late tonight.
The council will decide whether or not to extend SWEP tomorrow (Thursday 6 January). With the Met Office forecasting warmer overnight temperatures in the coming week, the likelihood is that SWEP will close tomorrow morning.
What is SWEP?
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.
Before the pandemic SWEP was provided in shared sleeping spaces but the need to do so safely during Covid restrictions meant that people were offered their own room for the night last winter.
While these restrictions are no longer in force, the government has issued new guidance in response to the risks of the Omicron variant. Covid cases in the planned SWEP venue mean that the council has arranged hotel rooms in order to provide safe, self-contained accommodation for people who want to come inside tonight.
Allocating SWEP beds
The St Mungo’s outreach and assessment team allocates SWEP beds to people during the day and notifies them where and when they need to go.
People who have not been allocated a SWEP bed 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.
“We believe that nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford and SWEP can offer a vital lifeline for people at risk during the winter. When people come inside during freezing weather it also gives us the chance to offer them the support they might need to leave the streets behind for good.
“We’re activating SWEP because the Met Office forecast is for the temperature to drop below zero tonight. We’ll review the situation tomorrow morning, but at the moment it looks likely that SWEP will close after one night.”
Councillor Diko Walcott, cabinet member for affordable housing, housing security and housing the homeless