Council activates emergency beds for rough sleepers

Published: Wednesday, 2nd January 2019

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 Wednesday 2 January until the morning of Saturday 5 January 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 for the next three nights. The situation will be reviewed on Friday morning to consider if SWEP will need to be extended into the weekend or beyond. 

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 by early afternoon on the day.

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 SWEP is open. 

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; hostel managers will do everything possible to ensure access for people in need of SWEP but reserve the right to exclude an individual if they present too great a risk to others. Known rough sleepers who present a lower risk to themselves or to others are usually given a bed outside the city centre. 

On top of the emergency provision and the existing bed places provided by the City Council across the city, a group of Oxford churches will open 20 beds from tomorrow night (3 January) until the end of March, collectively known as the Oxford Winter Night Shelter (OWNS). This is double the number of bed spaces offered by the churches last year. The City Council’s commissioned outreach service OxSPOT is facilitating the assessment and referral of clients whose needs can safely be met by this service. 

Councillor Linda Smith, Deputy Leader of Oxford City Council and Board Member for Leisure and Housing, said: “With the weather turning sharply colder over the next few days we are activating the emergency accommodation arrangements for rough sleepers regardless of their eligibility for the homeless pathway. SWEP is run by our dedicated team of partners and their staff and I’d like to thank everyone involved for their efforts over the next few days. 

 “Oxford City Council is doing more than ever before to help realise our ambition that nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford. We’re providing up to 215 beds for Oxford rough sleepers this winter. SWEP is on top of that.”

“If you are concerned about a person who maybe sleeping rough, 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. 

In total the Council is spending more than £2 million per annum in tackling rough sleeping in 2018/19 and 2019/20.