WHY doesn't Oxford's emergency homeless provision open its doors to walk-in requests earlier in the evening?

That was the question answered by the city council this week, after a Green councillor said a policy not to open the doors of Severe Weather Emergency Protocol beds to last minute entries until 11pm was 'absurd'.

The so-called SWEP beds were opened over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend because temperatures dipped below zero.

While there is a process for people to request a SWEP bed throughout the day, 'unallocated' beds which have not yet been claimed are only opened for rough sleepers between 11pm and midnight.

Green councillor Dick Wolff said this was absurd, adding: "The point of providing emergency beds is to get people out of the severe weather - not keep them hanging around in the cold until almost midnight." But a city council spokesman said the current method was 'the best way to provide Covid safe emergency shelter at short notice'.

When SWEP is triggered for a night, the council’s homelessness support partners are told by 10am that morning.

The outreach team from charity St Mungo's then spend the day attempting to make all rough sleepers aware, and allocate them into rooms.

READ AGAIN: Why are homeless rough sleepers still on the streets?

This process continues until 5pm when a list of people who are anticipated to access SWEP is produced, called the 'Anticipated List'.

The different places where SWEP beds are available can then be accessed by people on the anticipated list from 9pm until 11pm.

It is only at 11pm when it is known what spaces remain available at the venues.

This is why people who are not on the Anticipated List are directed to approach O’Hanlon House at 11pm so they can be directed to a space at one of the venues, or be allocated the room available at O’Hanlon House.

SWEP accommodation is not accessible after midnight.

A council spokesman added: "Pushing the times back would mean having large numbers of people in venues earlier in the evening without any structured activities or recreation opportunities available which could be challenging for SWEP staff to manage."

On March 26 there were 13 people experiencing rough sleeping in Oxford.

Four of these had become homeless in the last seven days and two had returned to the streets.