Rough Sleeping in Winter – what is being done?

Monday, 30 October 2017 - 1:32pm

There is no legal requirement to providing shelter for people sleeping rough, even in freezing cold temperatures.

A man with frost on his face

Not only in the winter months but all year round, we are ‘warmed’ by the human response of our members and partners within the community who rally to ensure that nobody dies. As well as preventing deaths, their efforts can be the first step towards someone leaving the streets for good.

Severe Weather Emergency Provision (SWEP) is provided by the Local Authority and opens for short periods when severe weather is forecast. Beds are provided in whichever way works best – hostel lounge, B&B, night shelter etc. Last winter saw more Local Authorities using a three-night minimum SWEP, using the extra time to help people find housing solutions and avoid returning to the street.

“This year we trialled that on the first placement we would place for a minimum of 3 nights initially in a B&B, regardless of how long the severe weather was to last. This was with the aim of allowing time for officers to try and engage with the clients more effectively” Tamworth Borough Council

In some areas, night shelters open throughout the winter months. There are shelters delivered by faith groups, often moving around a circuit of churches, and others run by local charities, including some commissioned or part-funded by the council. Whatever the model, winter shelters involve a huge amount of planning and coordination to respond to the needs of vulnerable people. These vital services often rely on teams of volunteers and donations from the public.

A single service isn’t always enough to meet everyone’s needs – some shelters don’t house people with addiction issues, accept pets, or allow couples to stay together; and some people are too vulnerable to sleep in dormitory-style settings. Everyone should be able to access severe weather provision, including people whose needs are complex or who have no recourse to public funds. Collaboration between charities and the Local Authority is a good way to make the best use of resources, ensuring people’s needs are met and that nobody is left outside.

“At Exeter, we are keen to innovate to find solutions for rough sleepers, but absolutely know we cannot do it alone. The project has really grown through collaboration with partners to make a difference rather than an isolated decision to commission.” Exeter City Council

How can you help?

Winter provision is a team effort, from staffing services to letting people know how to access shelter. Members of the public can help by:

Commissioners, charities and community groups can:

  • Work in partnership to make the most of shared resources, including funding, buildings and volunteers
  • Share ideas with partners in order to support everyone who needs shelter – between you, there’ll be a solution to get everyone indoors
  • Link additional services to your basic response e.g. B&B placements accessing day centre support, or Housing Officers offering in-reach advice to night shelters
  • Evaluate your service and learn from what works
  • Complete the Homeless Link SWEP survey at the end of the winter

SWEP and winter provision save lives, but this basic humanitarian response still leaves many people returning to the streets when the weather improves. Homeless Link and our members continue to work throughout the year to improve access to housing and support so that people can find not just shelter, but also a stable home.

Talk To Us

Tasmin Maitland

Head of innovation and good practice

Tasmin leads our Innovation and Good Practice team, with projects including Housing First England, London PLUS, Day Centres Project, Reboot, Counts & Estimates, and our effective practice guidance and toolkits.

Telephone: 020 7840 4451
Twitter: @Tasmin_IGP