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 any rough sleeper in the city from tonight until Sunday morning (16 December) in the first instance.
SWEP bed spaces normally open on the first night of a period when the Met Office forecasts that the overnight temperature will drop to zero or below for three or more consecutive nights. When SWEP is activated, emergency accommodation is available for anyone who would otherwise be sleeping rough on the night – even if they would not usually be eligible for the city’s adult homeless pathway.
The Met Office weather forecast is for the overnight temperature to be below zero tonight and on Friday night, and above zero for Saturday night. Although the usual conditions for SWEP activation have not been met, the council has exercised its discretion to do so because of the extremely low “feels like” temperature forecast for Saturday night.
The council activates SWEP in consultation with its local partners, including Homeless Oxfordshire, A2Dominion, Aspire and St Mungo’s, which runs the Oxford Street Population Outreach Team (OxSPOT).
OxSPOT is notifying potential rough sleepers that SWEP beds are available from tonight until Sunday morning in the first instance. Emergency beds include the offer of free kennelling for any rough sleepers with dogs, although these need to be arranged in advance.
Rough sleepers who want to access SWEP accommodation need to present themselves at Homeless Oxfordshire’s O’Hanlon House between 9 pm and 9:30 pm every night that beds are available.
Expert SWEP co-ordinators will then allocate them an emergency bed in one of three main venues in the city. The decision about which SWEP venue is most suitable for an individual rough sleeper is based on information provided by OxSPOT about their needs, where this is known.
O’Hanlon House and Simon House provide 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 given a bed outside the city centre.
A decision on whether to extend SWEP activation beyond Sunday morning will be made tomorrow.
Councillor Linda Smith, Deputy Leader of Oxford City Council and Board Member for Leisure and Housing, said: “Although the current Met Office forecast for Saturday night is that the temperature will be above zero, it will feel much colder so we are exercising our discretion to activate SWEP. We have a humanitarian obligation to do everything we can to prevent serious harm – or worse – to homeless people on the city’s streets. I’d like to thank everyone involved in delivering SWEP for their efforts in helping rough sleepers into emergency accommodation at such short notice.
“Oxford City Council is doing more than ever before to ensure that nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford. We’re providing up to 215 beds for Oxford rough sleepers this winter, including 41 new beds funded by the temporary Rough Sleeper Initiative (RSI). We’re also asking the government for extra funding so we can provide winterlong accommodation for all rough sleepers from next winter. If we’re successful, I hope that the need for emergency beds during severe weather will become a thing of the past.
“If you are concerned about a rough sleeper, you can contact OxSPOT on 01865 243229 to make a referral, or report them on the national StreetLink website or app. OxSPOT is not an emergency service, but it will follow up all calls as quickly as possible. If you think there is immediate danger to the health of a rough sleeper, please call 999 instead.”
The council is providing up to 215 beds for Oxford rough sleepers this winter, including 41 new spaces funded by the government’s temporary Rough Sleeper Initiative (RSI). The council has won up to £1,014,000 in RSI funding to provide extra beds and services this winter and next.
RSI funding means the council is spending more than £2 million in tackling rough sleeping in 2018/19.
On top of this, a group of Oxford churches will open 20 beds from New Year until the end of March through the Oxford Winter Night Shelter. SWEP beds are additional to this provision and open when the conditions to activate SWEP are met.
The council is seeking further government funding to allow it to provide winterlong beds for all rough sleepers from next winter.
The council is also working with Oxfordshire Community Foundation and local homelessness organisations to develop a citywide rough sleeping partnership, with the aim of ensuring that nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford. The partnership is expecting to launch a rough sleeping charter and website in early 2019.
More information about how the council operates SWEP is at www.oxford.gov.uk/swep.
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