Labour-led Oxford City Council is aiming to provide winter-long beds for all rough sleepers from next winter.
On Monday, 26 November, full Council agreed a motion reaffirming the Labour-led council’s ambition that nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford and calling for increased flexibility in opening emergency beds during freezing weather this winter.
The council aims to move away from the need to provide these emergency beds next winter (2019/20) by seeking to ensure enough beds are available for all rough sleepers – including those without a local connection to Oxford – throughout the winter.
Up to 215 beds are available 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.
The Labour-led council currently opens extra emergency beds for all rough sleepers, regardless of local connection, under its Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP). The council activates SWEP on the first night of a Met Office forecast that the overnight temperature will fall to zero or below for three or more consecutive nights.
When SWEP is activated, staff in SWEP providers and the council volunteer to work overtime to ensure that emergency beds are available for any rough sleeper who wants to come inside during severe winter conditions.
The Labour-led council also has discretion to activate SWEP during other adverse weather conditions – these could include snow on the ground or extreme wind chill.
To achieve its aim of moving away from SWEP provision and ensuring continuous winter provision for all rough sleepers, the council is seeking further government funding to enable the development of a new city centre hostel, improved assessment and support services, and expanded emergency accommodation that will be available to any rough sleeper throughout next winter.
Labour Councillor Linda Smith, Deputy Leader of Oxford City Council and Board Member for Leisure and Housing, said: “This winter, Oxford City Council is doing more than ever before to prevent and reduce rough sleeping in Oxford. We are providing up to 215 beds for Oxford rough sleepers, including 41 new spaces thanks to temporary RSI funding. We will also open extra SWEP beds during freezing weather, and the churches will step in again with 20 more beds through the Oxford Winter Night Shelter (OWNS).
“We are grateful for the hard work of our partner organisations, charities, voluntary organisations, professional workers and volunteers who do so much to reduce rough sleeping in Oxford. Even with RSI funding and OWNS, we need to do more to realise our ambition that nobody should have to sleep rough on the streets of Oxford.
“Our work concentrates on giving rough sleepers the option to come inside and get the support they need to rebuild their lives whatever the temperature, but we want to make sure that all rough sleepers have somewhere safe and warm during winter weather. Our officers will use the discretion given to them on when to trigger SWEP within the available resources.
“We are also working on plans for next winter, which will require additional government funding. As part of these plans, we aim to provide more continuous night shelter provision throughout the winter and operate emergency beds on every single freezing night. Opening and closing beds depending on the weather is never going to be an efficient way to run a service, nor the best way to help people.”
Councillor Linda Smith proposed the motion at full Council, seconded by Labour Councillor Shaista Aziz.
More information about what the council does to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping is at www.oxford.gov.uk/tacklinghomelessness
Notes to editors
Last winter, a group of Oxford churches opened the Oxford Winter Night Shelter (OWNS) from the beginning of January until the end of March. OWNS provided ten beds a night for lower risk verified rough sleepers. This coming winter, the churches plan to double OWNS provision to 20 beds a night.
OWNS beds are additional to the 215 beds that will be available and any SWEP provision this winter.
More information about new RSI-funded services in Oxford is in our press releases: