Severe Weather Emergency Protocol – saving lives in winter

Monday, 24 October 2016 - 11:50am

Every winter, Local Authorities, faith groups and charities work together to avoid deaths on the street. For people who are homeless and without entitlement or access to housing, this provision is their only chance to escape severe weather. At a time of rising homelessness and fewer resources, planning this humanitarian response should be a priority in every area as temperatures fall.

There are two types of winter provision. Each area should have at least one type in operation. 

Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP)

SWEP beds are funded by Local Authorities during short periods of high risk weather. The minimum trigger is a forecast of three nights below freezing, but many Local Authorities use a common sense approach to opening SWEP during storms, gales and cold snaps, so that people sleeping rough have a bed out of harm’s way. While it should not be the only response to rough sleeping, SWEP is vital to prevent harm and death. This is the only type of provision that is open to all, including people with no recourse to public funds and those who have been excluded from other services.

Local Authorities use a wide range of responses to ensure that SWEP can work for every person sleeping rough. Our annual survey of winter provision shows that accommodation used in 2015-16 included communal spaces in hostels, empty flats, B&Bs, and No Second Night Out (NSNO) hubs. Flexible, personalised responses have been developed to meet local and individual needs, including women-only space, finding a private room for a transgender woman, and B&B rooms for people with complex needs for whom communal settings are not appropriate. 

Local Authorities work with neighbouring authorities, charities, community and faith groups, outreach, Housing teams, and police to ensure that anyone sleeping out can be referred into SWEP. It is often a complex process, especially in rural areas with limited accommodation options, and each year we’re impressed by the commitment shown by Local Authority officers, and their partners, to making SWEP work for the communities they serve. 

"The Rough Sleepers Outreach team (RST) worked with an entrenched rough sleeper who had been sleeping out since August 2015 and would not previously engage with services. RST supported the customer to access SWEP. Having previously stated that he did not want to move anywhere, staying at the hostel's emergency provision gave the customer a fresh perspective and he was booked into a room within the hostel." Local Authority

"In all cases we first attempt to secure a night-shelter or hostel place, as this will provide longer term accommodation than SWEP while we work with them to try to secure something more permanent.  The response is very much geared to the individual's needs and circumstances as well as the availability of provision." Local Authority

Winter night shelters 

Winter night shelters open every night, usually November to March, and are often run by church groups. Typically offering basic dormitory-style accommodation in churches or community buildings, they meet basic needs with food, laundry and a warm welcome.  Winter shelters are an excellent opportunity for ongoing support work that helps people move on to a more stable housing solution, before the shelters close at the end of winter. 

"People created their own community of care. Because a safe, secure, warm and welcoming space had been created, they felt as if they belonged and started to take responsibility for the space and each other. They helped each other prepare the beds, they shared food and resources, and encouraged each other towards small goals, like getting a haircut, or applying for a job… A second unexpected outcome was the enthusiasm and compassion from the volunteers, many of whom had not worked with this client group. Their experiences… completely changed some of their perceptions and attitudes, and they became ambassadors for the project…" Voluntary sector provider

Winter provision often relies on teams of volunteers working anti-social hours through the coldest nights of the year, and delivering services with limited resources. For information on how to deliver SWEP and winter provision in your area, see our guidance and report on 2015-16 provision. Shelter providers should also refer to the Housing Justice Quality Mark for Church and Community Night Shelters

Talk To Us

Tasmin Maitland

Assistant Director, Practice and Partnerships

Tasmin leads our Innovation & Good Practice and Partnerships teams. Current team projects include: Communities of Practice, Ending Women's Homelessness Fund, Housing First Fund, London PLUS, Youth Homelessness, Housing First England, Reboot, Counts & Estimates, and our effective practice guidance and toolkits.

Telephone: 020 7840 4451
Twitter: @Tasmin_IGP