Oxford City Council has extended its Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) for rough sleepers, with extra SWEP provision put in place to manage higher than usual demand. This means that extra bed spaces will remain available for rough sleepers in Oxford until the morning of Monday 5 March.
Although the current Met Office forecast is for overnight temperatures to rise above zero on Sunday, the Council has consulted its key local partners, St Mungo’s and Homeless Oxfordshire, and used its discretion to keep SWEP beds open over the entire weekend.
The decision means emergency overnight accommodation will have been open for 11 consecutive nights (since Thursday 22 February) in response to the current severe weather conditions, dubbed ‘the Beast from the East’, resulting in more prolonged freezing conditions than in any year since 2013. In response, more than twenty members of staff from St Mungo’s, The Porch, Homeless Oxfordshire, A2 Dominion, Stonham and the City Council together with trained volunteers have been working around the clock to ensure rough sleepers have a bed, hot food and showers to escape the chill. The council and its partners will review the situation on Monday morning.
SWEP bed spaces open on the first night of a period when the Met Office forecasts the temperature will fall to zero or below on three or more consecutive nights. SWEP can also open during other severe weather conditions, such as when there is snow on the ground. When SWEP is activated, emergency accommodation is available for anyone who wants to come inside during severe weather. Oxford City Council and its partners have now activated SWEP for 26 nights this winter.
The Oxford Street Population Outreach Team (Oxford SPOT), which is run by St Mungo’s and based at Homeless Oxfordshire’s O’Hanlon House, will tell potential rough sleepers that SWEP beds remain open until Monday morning. Rough sleepers who want to access SWEP accommodation need to present themselves at O’Hanlon House between 9 pm and 9:30 pm every night that beds are available.
Councillor Mike Rowley, Board Member for Housing, said: “The Beast from the East mean that these are the worst weather conditions at this time of year since 2013. Our Single Homelessness Team and our partner organisations have planned extra SWEP capacity to make sure we have enough beds during this time.
“Activating SWEP means that staff and volunteers in Oxford’s homelessness services step up from their regular duties to deal with emergency conditions, and it is a tribute to their experience and professionalism that SWEP has risen to the extraordinary challenges posed by the prolonged cold weather. I know a small army of professionals and trained volunteers have been working around the clock to ensure everything has run smoothly, despite these exceptional circumstances.
“I’d like to thank Oxford SPOT, which works tirelessly with rough sleepers every day, and Homeless Oxfordshire, which co-ordinates SWEP provision. I’d also like to thank staff at O’Hanlon House, The Porch Day Centre, A2Dominion and Stonham, who provide the emergency beds that are needed during these awful weather conditions.”
As well as SWEP, ten extra beds are available for rough sleepers without a local connection under the Oxford WInter Night Shelter (OWNS). OWNS is operated by a group of Oxford churches and will be open until the end of March. Unlike SWEP, rough sleepers who want to access OWNS must be verified by Oxford SPOT.
Rough sleepers or people concerned about someone sleeping rough can contact Oxford SPOT on 01865 304611 to make a referral. This is not an emergency line but calls will be followed up as soon as possible. Oxford SPOT can also be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Referrals for Oxford SPOT can also be made through the 24 hour national StreetLink service at www.streetlink.org.uk or by using the StreetLink app.
Anyone who believes there is immediate danger to the health of a rough sleeper should call 999.