A HOMELESS man has hit out at Oxford City Council's provisions for rough sleepers.

Alan Thompson, 52, believes the council need to do more to publicise its Severe Weather Emergency Protocol, (SWEP) and provide more facilities for rough sleepers.

His comments follow news that a number of homeless people have died on the city's streets since November.

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Sharron Maasz, Aron Gibson, Czeslaw ('Chester') Mazak, are understood to have died. Other reports have also referred to a man named 'Simon' but the city council claim both he and Otis Galloway were not homeless when they died. The man who was found in an Oxford church yard last week was also homeless.

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When SWEP is activated, anyone who needs a bed must present themselves at Homeless Oxfordshire’s O’Hanlon House between 9pm and 9.30pm, and they will be allocated a space in one of three main venues in the city.

Mr Thompson said: “SWEP is a good idea and it does work up to a certain extent but its not very well publicised so a lot of homeless don’t know about it."

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SWEP launches when the Met Office forecasts overnight temperatures of zero or below for three or more consecutive nights. Anyone who needs a bed tonight or tomorrow night must present themselves at Homeless Oxfordshire’s O’Hanlon House between 9pm and 9.30pm, and they will be allocated a space in one of three main venues in the city.

The Oxford Times: Picture: Ed NixPicture: Ed Nix

Mr Thompson continued: "It has to be predicted to be below zero on three consecutive nights, so if it is -2 for two nights, then 1, it’s not activated.

"SWEP doesn’t kick in sometimes - when its freezing, it takes 12 hours for a person to die from hypothermia.

"So the council needs to do something on SWEP: publicity and lowering the protocol for it opening for (the early winter) because come January 2 to March there is the winter nights shelter."

The Oxford Times: Oxford Mail reporter Harrison Jones talks to a local street artist about the issueOxford Mail reporter Harrison Jones talks to a local street artist about the issue

The City Council has strongly defended its policies.

Linda Smith, Deputy city council Leader and Board Member for Leisure for leisure and Housing said: “We publicise SWEP through press releases and social media, and we directly notify student and community groups supporting rough sleepers that emergency beds are available."

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The city council, which also provides free kennelling for rough sleepers with dogs (though kennels must be arranged with OxSPOT in advance), also stresses that it uses an outreach team and local organisations to make as many people aware of the provisions as possible.

But Mr Thompson did not believe the message was getting through to the whole rough sleeping community.

The city council say they are providing 212 beds for rough sleepers this year and spending more than £2 million in 2018/19 on the issue.

It is planning to provide accommodation for all rough sleepers in time for next winter. That ambition revolves around a £1.6m plan to create a hub for up to 60 homeless people in the former job centre in Floyds Row, off St Aldate's.

Estimates suggest 597 people sleeping rough or in emergency shelter died in 2017 in England and Wales - a 24 per cent increase on 2013.

Meanwhile, a formerly homeless man from Oxford has called on the council to take a flexible approach to supporting homeless people.

Tom Cash, a big issue seller on Bonn Square, urged the council to consider the varying needs of those without homes, in the wake of a series of deaths.

The Oxford Times: Tom Cash. Picture: Harrison JonesTom Cash. Picture: Harrison Jones

The 53-year-old said: “The council needs to give people support. I knew a couple of (those who died) quite well. All people need different help from different places.

Mr Cash continued: "Some people have mental health problems, some have got drink and drug problems. Some have none and when they get on the streets they develop those."

The deaths of a number of homeless people have been linked to drink and drug problems.

But an Oxfordshire County Councillor has cautioned against a 'reactionary approach' to dealing with the issue.

In a Facebook debate with Oxford City Councillor Shaista Aziz, Damian Haywood said: "An appropriate evidence based non reactionary approach is required.

"In these troubling times we see many call for an immediate solution to be found.

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"And of course sometimes that is appropriate - see SWEP.

"But our greater goal is to help people by providing accommodation for them to overcome the associated problems of homelessness to ensure that they remain well and can live happy, fulfilled lives."

Ms Aziz responded: "It's only natural for people to feel traumatised and hurt when they lose people they love and for the public to seek answers.

The Oxford Times: Shaista Aziz (right) with Monica GregoryShaista Aziz (right) with Monica Gregory

We are not robots, we react to tragedies in different ways."