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

Published: Thursday, 17th January 2019

Oxford City Council has activated its Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) for rough sleepers.

This means that extra bed spaces will be available for any rough sleeper in the city tonight (Thursday 17 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 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).

The current Met Office forecast for Oxford is for overnight temperatures to be above zero on Friday 18 and Saturday 19 January. The Met Office forecasts for a week at a time and the current outlook from Sunday 20 January onwards is for overnight temperatures to fall to zero or below.

The council and its partners will decide tomorrow (Friday 18 January) whether SWEP will remain open over the weekend or close prior to reopening on Sunday night.

OxSPOT is notifying potential rough sleepers that SWEP beds are available tonight. 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.

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.

Councillor Linda Smith, Deputy Leader of Oxford City Council and Board Member for Leisure and Housing, said: “We are exercising our discretion to activate emergency beds for rough sleepers tonight. The current Met Office forecast is for the overnight temperature to be above zero on Friday and Saturday night, and to fall to zero or below again from Sunday night into next week. Tomorrow morning we will decide whether to keep SWEP over the weekend, and will review the situation for Sunday night and beyond.

“SWEP is only possible due to the dedication of staff and volunteers in our partners, and I’d like to thank everyone involved for their efforts.

“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 a year in tackling rough sleeping in 2018/19 and 2019/20.

On top of the existing beds and emergency spaces, a group of Oxford churches are providing 20 beds a night until the end of March through the Oxford Winter Night Shelter (OWNS). OxSPOT refers verified rough sleepers to the OWNS service.

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 the next few months.

More information about how the council operates SWEP is at www.oxford.gov.uk/swep.