Rough sleepers putting lives at risk sleeping in bins

Monday, 10 February 2014 - 12:47am

New report highlights just some of the lengths individuals are forced to go to in order to find somewhere to sleep, especially in cold or wet weather.

Photograph: Biffa
Photograph: Biffa

Paul, who slept rough for two years, could not have put it better: “People who sleep on the streets are often incredibly vulnerable and will find any shelter they can to help feel protected.”

new report out today highlights just some of the lengths individuals are forced to go to in order to find somewhere to sleep, especially in cold or wet weather. 

According to a survey of waste industry professionals, nearly a fifth have found people sheltering in waste or recycling bins in the past year. If this was not worrying enough, 16% of people found sleeping in waste containers were only discovered once they had been tipped out into a rubbish truck.

When this happens, an individual is likely to be injured at the very least and could be killed. In fact this research - supported by Biffa, the Chartered Institution of Waste Management (CIWM) and StreetLink - was prompted by a number of near misses and fatalities.

What the study indicates is when and where individuals are most likely to be found. Namely in unlocked bins, stored at the rear or side of buildings and largely in urban areas. It also highlights that waste professionals need to be especially vigilant in cold or wet weather.

The report also flags the practical steps that both the waste industry and charities can take to help combat the issue.

Waste management companies can tighten up their procedures. Perhaps one of the most significant learning points from the study was that two thirds of waste organisations did not have a formal policy for checking bins prior to tipping, which is one of the most reliable ways to make sure people's lives are not endangered.

Others can also follow the example of Biffa by providing their waste crews with the StreetLink number, so they can alert services if they find someone they are concerned is sleeping rough.

But we the homeless sector can also play our part by better communicating to clients the dangers of sheltering in bins. Many individuals may just not realise the risk they run - or they may feel, especially in bad weather, that they don’t have any choice. 

As Paul says: “I know from my time rough sleeping that it’s incredibly difficult to sleep out when it’s cold and raining, particularly in winter. However, this research proves sleeping in bins brings enormous dangers and it’s imperative that both rough sleepers and waste management workers are educated to ensure no further deaths or injuries occur.”

What this report ultimately highlights is that, in modern Britain, people just should not be forced to sleep on our streets. To see the waste industry wanting to help tackle rough sleeping is really encouraging. However, we can all play our part.

Councils can ensure that if someone ends up on the streets, accommodation and support is available so that they don’t have to spend another night out. 

You can also do your bit. If you are concerned about someone sleeping rough in England,simply contact StreetLink on 0300 500 0914 and help connect them to local support.

#Nobodyout report on 12 months of StreetLink 2013

This short document sets out  the reasons StreetLink was launched and the outcomes of the first 12 months.


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Matt Harrison

Matt Harrison

Director of business and social enterprise

Matt oversees our finances and central services functions and all our income-generation activity, including In-Form and fundraising. He is also responsible for our StreetLink service, a 24/7 website and phone line to enable members of the public to connect rough sleepers to local services. Matt was the chief executive of a specialist information charity that joined with Homeless Link in 2009. His background is in advice centres, day centres and hostels for homeless people in Coventry and London.

Telephone: 020 7840 4462
Twitter: @homelesslink