As overnight temperatures drop below freezing, a new survey reveals that two thirds of UK adults don’t feel confident in knowing how to help someone sleeping rough
As the cold weather closes in, a new survey has revealed that two thirds of adults (64%) in the UK wouldn’t feel confident in knowing the best way to help someone sleeping rough.
The survey, commissioned by the charity Homeless Link and carried out by Opinium, asked a representative sample of 2000 adults questions about how they would react if they saw someone sleeping rough. The results reveal that the majority of people are unsure of the best action to take, with this lack of confidence often translating into inaction.
Even if they were concerned about someone sleeping rough, people’s most likely response would be to do nothing, with a third of adults (32%) saying they wouldn’t do anything to help. Just under a quarter (23%) said they would contact an organisation like a local authority, local charity or outreach service to help, while 16% said they would give the person food and 7% said they would give them money.
The survey also found that the biggest barrier preventing people from helping someone sleeping rough is not knowing what to do, with nearly a third of people (29%) citing this. 27% of people wouldn’t feel safe, while a quarter would be worried about making the situation worse and a fifth said they didn’t feel like their help would make any long-term difference.
But less than one in ten (9%) of adults said they don’t think it’s the responsibility of members of the public to help people sleeping rough. Meanwhile, three in five adults (61%) would be more likely to help someone sleeping rough if they knew the best way to connect them to long-term support, while a similar proportion (63%) would be more likely to help someone sleeping rough during periods of extreme cold weather.
These findings come at a time when overnight temperatures have consistently dropped to below freezing in parts of the UK. Sleeping outside in cold weather puts people at risk of significant health issues such as hypothermia, which can often be fatal. Recent ONS statistics found that 688 people died while experiencing homelessness in England and Wales in 2020. This was a slight fall when compared with 2019, but was still 43% higher than in 2013. Meanwhile, ONS figures show that the average age of death for men experiencing homelessness is 46 and 41 for women.
Homeless Link & St Mungo’s urge members of the public to use StreetLink to help connect people sleeping rough to long-term support
To help make sure no one has to sleep in the cold this winter, homelessness charities Homeless Link and St Mungo’s are urging members of the public to send alerts about people rough sleeping to StreetLink.
StreetLink is the app, website and phone line which allows members of the public to send alerts about people sleeping rough. StreetLink is not an accommodation provider, instead the service sends the alerts to the local homeless outreach team in the area, who use the information to help locate the individual and offer support that can help end their homelessness.
However, Homeless Link’s survey found that only one in five (19%) of adults have heard of StreetLink, while only 6% of adults have used the service before. The survey also found that people in London are most likely to have heard of and used StreetLink, while people in the East of England are least likely to have heard of or used it. Additionally, only 1% of people aged 55 or over have used StreetLink before compared to 11% of people aged 18-34.
Fiona Colley, Director of StreetLink at Homeless Link, said:
“No one should have to sleep rough at any time of the year, but it is particularly dangerous during periods of cold weather. This survey clearly shows that the public want to help, but many people aren’t sure what they can do.
“Connecting people to local support services is vital in helping them end their homelessness for good and three in five people told us they would be more likely to act if they knew the best way to make that connection. StreetLink is quick and easy to use, enabling members of the public to take positive action to let support services know if they see someone sleeping rough.
“I would implore anyone who sees someone rough sleeping and wants to make a positive difference, to send an alert to StreetLink. Just a few minutes of your time could help a person leave homelessness for good.
“But remember, StreetLink is not an emergency service. If the person needs emergency assistance, please contact 999.”
Nathan Rosier, Outreach Service Development Manager at St Mungo’s said:
“It’s hard not to feel helpless when you see someone on the streets who is sleeping rough. The results of this survey reflect those feelings and the uncertainty that many people feel about what to do when they encounter someone in need.
“St Mungo’s is one of the largest providers of outreach services in England. Our teams go out each night to meet people sleeping rough and help them to move away from the streets. Making contact with our staff can mean the difference between saving someone’s life, or an individual missing out on the wrap-around, tailored support they urgently need.
“Rough sleeping is always dangerous, but in the cold weather it can be life-threatening. It’s vital that the public feel empowered to support our work and make a referral to StreetLink if they are concerned about someone. Your referral will give us the crucial information we need to bring people inside and help them to access long-term support.”
How to make an effective StreetLink alert
www.streetlink.org.uk | iTunes / Google Play ‘StreetLink’
If you see someone sleeping rough, you can make a referral via the StreetLink app, website or phoneline. Please note, StreetLink is not an emergency service. If you are concerned someone is in immediate danger or needs urgent care, please call 999.
When making a referral, it’s important you provide the following details:
- A specific location for the rough sleeping site. You can do this by using a map to pinpoint the exact location and then providing a written description of the location.
- Details of the time that the person sleeping rough was seen at the location.
- Any information about the person sleeping rough that will help identify them. Such as; gender, approximate age, what the person looks like and what they were wearing.
Notes to editors
About the research
The survey was conducted by Opinium between the 28th November and 2nd December. Questions were answered by a representative sample of 2000 adults from across the UK.
StreetLink is a non-profit organisation run by Homeless Link, the national homelessness membership charity, in partnership with major homeless services provider, St Mungo’s. The principle funder is the Government’s Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government; with additional funding from the Greater London Authority, the Welsh Government, and public donations.
About Homeless Link
Homeless Link is the national membership charity for frontline homelessness services, representing over 900 organisations across England. We work to improve services through research, guidance and learning, and campaign for policy change that will ensure that everyone has a place to call home and the support they need to keep it.
About St Mungo’s
St Mungo’s is a national homelessness charity that works to prevent people’s homelessness and support people at every step of their recovery from homelessness.