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National homeless charity warns of risk to life for people on the streets

December 3rd 2021, 6:02 pm by Arran Hodges

National homelessness charity Crisis has warned of risk to life for people rough sleeping on our streets with temperatures continuing to be close to freezing this weekend.

Crisis is now urging councils to act quickly to save lives and are sharing advice with the public about what they can do to help someone sleeping rough.

When temperatures fall near or below freezing, something called the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) comes into force across the country. This sees local authorities provide additional shelter spaces for people who would otherwise be rough sleeping in the cold weather and provide temporary protection for the duration of this temperature drop. Although SWEP is widely regarded as an important measure to help protect loss of life and there is no legal requirement for local authorities to provide this.

For anyone who spots someone sleeping rough during the bitter cold and wants to help, Crisis has advice for members of the public to follow. Whether you give, or what you give, is of course a personal choice and dependent on what you are comfortable with, but ideas include:

• Ask the person if they’d like you to contact StreetLink which will link them up with homelessness services available in their area.
• If you have any immediate concerns about someone’s welfare, you should call 999.  
• Homelessness can be an incredibly isolating experience so simply stopping for a conversation or offering a kind word can help. It’s always best to ask someone if and how they would like your help first.
• Ask if there is anything they need. It could be a hot drink or food, or maybe some hand sanitizer or a reusable mask.  
• During a cold snap or the winter, blankets, waterproof items or warm clothing, like hats, scarfs, socks or gloves can make a huge difference.  
• Ask the person if they want expert advice. Search ‘Crisis get help’ to find out where our nearest skylight centres are for expert housing advice. 

Rough sleepers face extreme dangers, particularly in the cold winter weather. Just this week, ONS data revealed that in 2020, 688 people died whilst homeless across England and Wales. In England, the average age of death for men experiencing homelessness is just 45.9 and 4.16 for women, decades shorter than people not facing homelessness.

Later this month, Crisis will be running their annual Crisis at Christmas services, 50 years on from when it first started. A number of hotel places will be provided across London for people who would otherwise be sleeping rough over Christmas and also a number of day centres across the capital, providing support, warmth and entertainment for people experiencing all forms of homelessness. Crisis’ 11 Skylight centres across the country will also be providing food, activities and ongoing support and advice to their clients over Christmas too.

Jon Sparkes, Crisis Chief Executive, said:

“Homelessness can be an incredibly isolating experience so even something as simple as asking someone on the streets how they are or offering to buy them a hot drink can make a world of difference. Striking up a conversation with someone can also mean you are able to get their permission to contact Streetlink on their behalf, which will connect them to homelessness services in their local area.
“Rough sleeping at any time of year is incredibly dangerous, but when it's this cold it can be deadly. No one should ever have to sleep rough – yet thousands of people across the country are currently left with nowhere to turn.
“We're urging councils across England to open their emergency winter night accommodation as temperatures drop, in a Covid secure way, and ensure no one is left alone and freezing on the streets.
“Homelessness is not inevitable – at Crisis, we know it can be ended for good and will continue working to bring us closer to this goal. Until then, we will be here to support people facing homelessness up and down the country and would encourage members of the public to take an active role in helping people facing homelessness during this brutally cold weather and all year-round.”