THE current spell of cold weather has seen Cambridge City Council triggering the Severe Weather Emergency Provision (SWEP) which provides emergency accommodation for rough sleepers.
Under the scheme, anyone who would otherwise have to sleep in the open will be offered emergency accommodation free of charge. The only qualification for being offered a bed is an acceptable level of behaviour.
This is the fifth time this season that emergency accommodation has been laid on. In total so far this winter additional shelter for rough sleepers has been available on 39 nights.
The SWEP season operates between 1 November and 1 April. In Cambridge SWEP is not just for cold weather - the council applies a common-sense approach, additionally offering a warm, safe place at night during prolonged wet or windy spells which can often be even worse for the health of people on the street.
It is also implemented on other occasions throughout the winter to offer respite for anyone regularly sleeping rough. In recent years the council has made sure that SWEP beds are available between Christmas and New Year, whatever the weather.
The council works with local charities, agencies and volunteers to ensure that people on the street know that SWEP is available.
The main provider of beds is Jimmy’s on East Road, Cambridge, where up to 30 beds a night will be on offer - 15 in the Zion Baptist Chapel, and 15 in Jimmy’s, with up to six spaces reserved for females.
Any period of SWEP is a major operation for Jimmy’s and so far this year it has provided over 600 overnight stays for rough sleepers as part of the provision.
Three beds are available at The Victoria Project on Victoria Road and Cambridge Churches Homelessness Project (CCHP) are providing 15 additional winter emergency beds using church halls.
People who would otherwise be sleeping rough during the current period of adverse weather can go to Jimmy’s at 1, East Road or phone 01223 576085 for advice.
The current SWEP period started on Friday night (23 February) and will continue until temperatures rise again, however long that may be.
The number of beds available in Cambridge this season is the highest to date. Almost half of beds available at Jimmy's have gone unfilled over the first few days of the current period, but on previous occasions more people have come in from the cold the longer it lasts.
Cllr Kevin Price, Executive Councillor for Housing, said: “People are understandably concerned about people sleeping rough during periods of very cold weather, which is why we have developed our severe weather provision and implement it whenever the forecast is bad.
“We provide an extensive cold weather service for rough sleepers in Cambridge, in order to ensure that nobody needs to sleep rough during particularly bad winter weather.
“If residents speak to anyone who is sleeping rough, they can let them know that a warm, safe space is available, and that they can either go to Jimmy’s at 1, East Road or call 01223 576085 for more information.”