Oxford City Council activated its severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP) from rough sleepers this week.
SWEP opens emergency accommodation for homeless people during the colder months of the year, extending to people who have no local connection to Oxford, no right to claim benefits or who have refused previous offers of accommodation and support.
This protocol was previously activated when the Met Office forecasted three or more consecutive nights of sub-zero temperatures.
People would have to present at O’Hanlon House between 9pm and 9:30pm on every night SWEP was activated before they knew where their bed for the night was.
This winter sees changes to the protocol.
SWEP beds are available for anyone who wants to come inside for one night, whenever the Met Office forecasts an overnight temperature of zero or below.
Outreach and assessment services will allocate SWEP spaces to people during the day and notify them where and when they need to go, removing the need to attend O’Hanlon House.
Aiming to improve the experience for people experiencing homelessness, the new process will reduce pressure on services provided at O’Hanlon House.
Stephen Clarke, head of housing services, said: “This winter we’re activating SWEP beds every night the temperature is forecast to hit zero. We’ve also listened to SWEP users who told us at the end of last winter that they didn’t want to register at O’Hanlon House every night.
“We’ve streamlined the registration process and will be telling people during the day where they’ll be sleeping if they want to come inside tonight.”
Using its discretion, the council will open emergency beds in other severe conditions, including snow on the ground, sub-zero “feels like” temperatures or a warmer night during “a prolonged freezing spell.”
In a statement, the council said: “The council hopes there will be less need for SWEP beds this winter given that it has opened two new homeslessness services in the last month.
“The Somewhere Safe to Stay service offers 12 beds for up to seven nights to people who are newly homeless or at risk of rough sleeping while they participate in an intensive “right first time” assessment that identifies suitable housing and links them with the other support they need to leave homelessness behind.
“A shelter offering winterlong accommodation for up to 13 people experiencing rough sleeping is also now open. The winter shelter is available to anyone, even if they do not have a local connection to Oxford or recourse to public funds. Referrals to the winter shelter must be made via the outreach and assessment team, OxSPOT.”
Churches Together will also offer 20 beds in the Oxford Winter Night Shelter from New Year.