New figures from Oxford City Council reveal that emergency shelter provided in freezing weather helped protect 106 people experiencing rough sleeping this winter.
While 341 beds are available for people experiencing rough sleeping all year round, the council activates its severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP) whenever the Met Office forecasts sub-zero overnight temperatures.
Activating SWEP means that local homelessness agencies provide extra beds for anyone who wants to come inside – including people who don’t normally have the right to claim benefits or housing, or who have previously refused offers of help.
On Monday (3 April), the council activated SWEP for the ninth time since 7 December. With warmer overnight weather now with us, emergency beds have closed again and this is likely to be the last SWEP activation of 2022/23.
The latest SWEP activation was 14 April in 2021, with 2013 being the only other year SWEP was needed in April.
SWEP in numbers
- There were 446 separate stays in SWEP venues
- 106 individuals took up the offer of a SWEP bed
- 63% of people who were allocated a SWEP bed in advance took up the offer of emergency shelter
- SWEP was activated for 33 nights
- 22 people was the highest attendance on any one night (8 December)
- The longest continuous period of activation was 12 nights (7–18 December)
- An average of 13 people used SWEP each night
- SWEP was activated for one night only 5 times (27 January, 9 February, 10 March, 14 March, 3 April)
- Only 3 people took up the offer of a SWEP bed on 7 March
The council activates SWEP in consultation with St Mungo’s, which it commissions to provide outreach and assessment services. St Mungo’s also managed SWEP beds at Floyds Row, with other SWEP venues provided by The Porch, Homeless Oxfordshire and Ark-T.
Turning Point provided additional support to deliver SWEP.
People experiencing rough sleeping during the winter
The number of individuals seen bedded down in a month in Oxford reduced from 84 in September to 58 in February. A nightly estimate taken at the end of each month fell from 46 to 29 people over the same period, with the number of people new to rough sleeping falling from 36 to 16.
This decrease was achieved with the aid of additional pressures funding by central government, supporting the council to help people off the streets more quickly. The end of this funding, the annual closure of Oxford Winter Night Shelter and warmer weather mean that the number of people experiencing rough sleeping is likely to rise in the next few months.
“SWEP is an important part of our services as it provides a vital lifeline to people experiencing rough sleeping during freezing weather. I’d like to thank St Mungo’s, The Porch, Homeless Oxfordshire, Ark-T and Turning Point for going above and beyond in helping us to provide emergency shelter whenever SWEP was activated this winter.”
Councillor Linda Smith, cabinet member for housing