Council extends emergency accommodation provision for rough sleepers due to severe weather  

By Sarah Edwards

With temperatures in Oxford due to fall to -3 tonight (Tuesday), Oxford City Council is extending its activation of its Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) for rough sleepers.
 
The City Council operates SWEP in consultation with key local partners St Mungo’s, The Porch, Simon House (A2 Dominion) and Homeless Oxfordshire (formerly Oxford Homeless Pathways).  The protocol was invoked on Friday 8 December following a forecast of snow and sub-zero overnight temperatures for Oxford, in line with prevailing weather conditions across the country.
 
On Friday, 21 people accessed emergency accommodation, going down to 20 on Saturday and up to 22 on Sunday night.  SWEP sets out what the council and local homelessness organisations will do to make extra bed spaces available for rough sleepers in the city during cold winter weather. It opens on the first night of a period when the Met Office forecasts the temperature will fall to zero or below on three or more consecutive nights. It can also open on a discretionary basis during other adverse weather conditions. The council operates SWEP under guidance from Homeless Link.
 
When SWEP is open, emergency accommodation is available for anyone who would otherwise be sleeping rough in the city – and standard eligibility criteria for homeless accommodation does not apply.
 
Councillor Mike Rowley, Board Member for Housing, said: “Over the past three nights we have been able to provide access to emergency accommodation to people who needed it and will continue to do so until the end of the sub-zero overnight temperatures. Our partners are working flat out to ensure that anyone found rough sleeping in the city and needs emergency accommodation will get access to it. 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 the volunteers and professionals involved in the SWEP operation for their efforts in helping rough sleepers into emergency accommodation.”
 
Claire Dowan, Homeless Oxford Chief Executive Officer, said: “At Homeless Oxfordshire we provide over 200 bed spaces though our hostel and move-on accommodation houses in the community. At O’Hanlon House Hostel we provide 24 hour support and have 56 rooms available that are always pretty much full. We also open for day services and provide shelter and food to around 40 additional people. Overnight our Sit Up service provides further spaces for people to come in off the streets.
 
The implementation of SWEP means that we provide a further 10 spaces on top of our regular Sit Up service. It is a harsh reality that people are at risk of dying on the streets during the winter and collectively we continue to do our best to reduce rough sleeping in Oxford.”