Oxford City Council has invoked its Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) for rough sleepers, following forecasts of snow and sub-zero temperatures.
The decision, made in consultation with the St Mungo’s and Homeless Oxfordshire charities, will ensure local homelessness organisations make extra bed spaces available for rough sleepers.
Emergency accommodation will be provided to anyone who would otherwise be sleeping rough at night, even if they would not usually be eligible through the city’s adult homelessness pathway.
The council has alerted The Porch, A2Dominion and other providers that work alongside St Mungo’s and Homeless Oxfordshire that SWEP has been invoked. It shall remain active until Monday.
During SWEP, the council recommends that rough sleepers and support agencies acting on their behalf should contact O’Hanlon House, a homeless hostel in the city, to make arrangements for access.
Councillor Mike Rowley, Board Member for Housing, said: “We are invoking SWEP because it will be freezing…and 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.”
Alex Kumar, chair of Oxford SU’s ‘On Your Doorstep’ homelessness campaign, told Cherwell: “What will happen this weekend under SWEP is a great and beautiful thing, for which we can thank the council and the volunteers and professionals involved. Human lives – that otherwise might have been lost – will be saved.
“But let us not be mistaken: with homelessness now at the level of crisis on the streets of Oxford, SWEP is the floor – not the ceiling – of what needs to happen. After all, when you’re out on the street, you’re so vulnerable. Forget three consecutive freezing nights – sometimes, it takes just one cold night to kill you.
“Imagine if SWEP were invoked every time temperatures dropped below zero, or even extended indefinitely – if all our city’s rough sleepers who will be given temporary shelter this weekend were allowed to stay there for as long as they need, with both the protection from danger and the opportunity for improvement that you really struggle to find when you’re sleeping rough.
“Let us imagine these things – and ask, ‘why not?'”
Oxford recently lost one of its homeless shelters – Lucy Faithfull House – after funding cuts. Plans for a new centre on Rymers Lane are currently under way.