Severe weather forecast leads to council activating emergency beds for rough sleepers

Published: Tuesday, 22nd January 2019

As the Met Office is forecasting freezing overnight temperatures, 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 from tonight (Tuesday 22 January) until Friday morning (25 January) in the first instance.

SWEP bed spaces normally open on the first night of a Met Office forecast 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 any rough sleeper, even if they would not usually qualify for a bed in the city’s adult homeless pathway.

The Met Office weather forecast is for the overnight temperature to be below zero tonight and tomorrow night, and above zero for Thursday 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 Thursday 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).

The council and its partners will decide whether to extend SWEP activation on Friday morning (25 January).

OxSPOT and homeless day services are notifying potential rough sleepers that SWEP beds are now available. Free kennelling is also available for rough sleepers with dogs, although kennels must be arranged in advance.

Rough sleepers who want to access a SWEP bed space need to present themselves at Homeless Oxfordshire’s O’Hanlon House between 9 pm and 9:30 pm.

SWEP co-ordinators will 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. SWEP providers reserve the right to exclude a rough sleeper on arrival at a venue if they consider that individual presents too great a risk to others.

Councillor Linda Smith, Deputy Leader of Oxford City Council and Board Member for Leisure and Housing, said: “Although the current Met Office forecast for Thursday night is that the temperature will be above zero, it will feel much colder so we’re exercising our discretion to activate SWEP and make emergency beds available for any rough sleeper who wants to come inside. We will review the situation again on Friday.

“Activating SWEP means that staff and volunteers in Oxford’s homelessness services step up from their regular duties to deal with emergency conditions, 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.