Council keeps emergency beds open for rough sleepers

Published: Wednesday, 30th January 2019

With freezing overnight temperatures forecast to continue, Oxford City Council has extended its Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP).

This means that emergency bed spaces will remain available for any rough sleeper in the city until the morning of Friday 1 February initially.

The council and its local partners will make a further decision whether to keep SWEP beds open on Friday.

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.

SWEP was activated for the fifth time this winter on Monday 28 January, in consultation with local partners. These include Homeless Oxfordshire, A2Dominion, Aspire and St Mungo’s, which runs the Oxford Street Population Outreach Team (OxSPOT).

OxSPOT and homeless day services are now telling potential rough sleepers that SWEP beds will remain open until at least Friday morning. Free kennelling is also available for rough sleepers with dogs, although kennels must be arranged with OxSPOT 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 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 is based on information provided by OxSPOT about their needs, where this is known.

O’Hanlon House and A2Dominion’s Simon House provide a secure environment for known rough sleepers with chaotic behaviours and those presenting for the first time with unknown needs. 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: “With freezing temperatures set to continue and yellow warnings for snow and ice, we’re keeping emergency beds open until Friday morning initially.  We’ll decide whether to continue to keep SWEP beds open on Friday.

“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 212 beds for Oxford rough sleepers this winter, including 39 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. This means the council is spending more than £2 million a year in tackling rough sleeping in 2018/19 and 2019/20.

Yesterday the council announced it was applying for planning permission to develop a new homeless assessment hub and provide winterlong emergency accommodation open to all rough sleepers.

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.