Preventing deaths on the streets this winter: an open letter to local authorities

Friday, 2 October 2015 - 10:43am

We appeal to local authorities to go the extra mile in their emergency support for people who sleep rough this winter.

At this time every year we support local authorities to make plans to prevent deaths among people sleeping rough during the winter months. Severe Weather Emergency Provision (SWEP) is accommodation or shelter made available to anyone sleeping rough, regardless of their eligibility or needs, when the temperature drops and the risk of harm increases.

This is a humanitarian obligation. The reasons individuals become street homeless are varied, but there is no reason people should die on the streets as a result of the weather.

Extra flexibility from many local authorities

Each year I’m impressed by the efforts, goodwill and compassion of local authorities and their partners during the winter months.

Where historically SWEP had been triggered by the predicted temperature falling below zero for three consecutive nights, many local authorities across England commit to even more flexible provision.  This includes using 'feels like' temperatures to trigger emergency provision and providing shelter for extended periods over the winter months. These areas provide a range of accommodation and support to get people into housing where their needs can be met.

Better winter provision changes lives

Good practice approaches in winter months have been used to support people to leave the street permanently.  As a street outreach worker during one particularly cold winter I offered SWEP to a man who had for many years refused all housing and support available to him.  He agreed to go into the emergency shelter in the activity room at a local hostel and slept inside for the first time in over 20 years. It gave me and others the chance to establish a trusting relationship with him. It also changed some of his beliefs about housing and accepting help; he began engaging more with services and went on to spend more time in accommodation.

We know funding cuts mean you are all stretched, trying to provide more for less. But we want to support you and your partners as much as possible to continue providing SWEP to the most vulnerable people this winter in order to save lives and end homelessness.

Find out more

Earlier this week we held a webinar with Housing Justice to share learning, funding ideas and good practice to help you plan the support you offer this winter. We have updated our good practice guidance, and in the New Year we will be in touch to hear how you have helped to save lives during the cold months.

To watch the webinar, read the guidance and find out how your colleagues in other areas plan for the winter, visit www.homelesslink.org.uk/swep.

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Jo Prestidge

Innovation and good practice project manager

Jo is an innovation and good practice project manager, leading a range of projects and training including Housing First England and Trauma Informed Care.