Council activates emergency beds for rough sleepers due to freezing weather forecast

Published: Thursday, 15th March 2018

Oxford City Council has activated its Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) for rough sleepers. This means that the council and local homelessness organisations will make extra bed spaces available for rough sleepers in the city from tomorrow night (Friday 16 March) until Monday morning.

SWEP is activated when the Met Office forecasts that the overnight temperature will drop to zero or below for three or more consecutive nights. This means that emergency beds are available for any rough sleeper who wants to come inside during freezing weather. The current Met Office weather forecast is for the overnight temperature to be below zero from Friday night until Monday morning. A decision on whether to extend SWEP activation beyond the weekend will be made on Monday 19 March.

The council activates SWEP in consultation with its local partners Homeless Oxfordshire and St Mungo’s, which runs the Oxford Street Population Outreach Team (Oxford SPOT).

Oxford SPOT members are out on the streets from early morning talking to rough sleepers, telling them that SWEP beds will be available and how to access them. There are spaces for up to four dogs in Homeless Oxfordshire’s O’Hanlon House, though these are all currently taken. Oxford SPOT offers free kennel spaces to all rough sleepers with dogs during SWEP periods. Rough sleepers who want a kennel space need to notify O’Hanlon House of this by midday on a day they intend to take up a SWEP bed.

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. Expert SWEP co-ordinators will then assess them and allocate an emergency bed in one of three main venues in the city centre and East Oxford. The decision about which SWEP venue is most suitable for an individual rough sleeper is based on information provided by Oxford SPOT about their needs, where this is known.

O’Hanlon House provides a secure environment for known rough sleepers with chaotic behaviours and those presenting for the first time whose needs are unknown. Known rough sleepers who present a lower risk to themselves or to others are usually allocated a bed in the churches’ Oxford Winter Night Shelter (OWNS) or in East Oxford. There is also specialist SWEP provision for single homeless women. 

Councillor Mike Rowley, Board Member for Housing, said: “The unusually harsh conditions in the last month mean that by Monday morning SWEP beds will have been available for 31 nights this winter. 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 it has faced this winter. I would like to thank Oxford SPOT, Homeless Oxfordshire, Simon House, The Porch and the churches for all their hard work during SWEP.

“If you are concerned about a rough sleeper, you can contact Oxford SPOT on 01865 304611 to make a referral, or report them on the national StreetLink website or app. The Oxford SPOT line is not an emergency line for reporting rough sleepers at night, as the Oxford SPOT team will be helping to run SWEP and not taking phone calls. If you think there is immediate danger to the health of a rough sleeper, please call 999 instead.”

On the 29 nights that SWEP has been activated so far this winter, 121 individuals have accessed emergency beds. A total of 703 bed spaces have been occupied during SWEP, with an average of 24 rough sleepers each night. The highest number in SWEP beds on any one night was 38 individuals.