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How to help homeless people during the cold weather

As a bitterly cold evening draws in, rough sleepers face even greater risks as they bed down for a night on the streets.

Here is what to do if you see someone sleeping rough, according to professionals:

Ask yourself, does the person need emergency help?

1. If the person in question is under age or is sleeping rough with a child in their care, this is a matter to refer to the police immediately as local authorities have a legal obligation to provide shelter to children.

2. If the person is in need of urgent medical attention – for example, if they have an open wound or appear to be seriously ill – calling 999 for an ambulance will get them professional help, and quickly.

3. Another immediate concern, especially in cold conditions, is where the person is set to spend the next few hours. Day shelters offering food and clothing and – usually during the winter months – night shelters that offer safe, warm sleeping areas, are in operation in many areas, so Google those running in your area.

Will they be outside in sub-zero temperatures?

During extremely cold weather – specifically, when temperatures fall to zero degrees or lower for three days – special measures come into action with the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP).

When this comes into force, the local authority and other organisations in the area will work to offer extra temporary accommodation where possible.

Your local authority’s housing options number – usually easy to find online – can give you more information on whether SWEP is in place and what local shelter options are available.

How do I alert the local authority?

If no immediate shelter is available, you can still help a rough sleeper get on the path to engaging with services – usually through their local authority. It is important, if you have been able to speak to them, that you get their consent to do this.

One option available for members of the public in England and Wales is StreetLink – a service that centralises reporting of rough sleepers.

A call or online referral to StreetLink will, where appropriate, be passed to the relevant local services – usually local authority outreach teams who operate at night.

Due to the high volume of calls, StreetLink advises the best method to refer rough sleepers is via the website or app.

What information do I need to give?

Local outreach teams will welcome as much of the following information as possible in order to locate a rough sleeper:

Night-time sleep location: This is absolutely key in many cases, as this is when most outreach teams operate. If you have this information, be as precise as possible.

A physical description: For obvious reasons, this can go a long way to helping outreach workers find someone who is sleeping rough.

Any particular concerns: Health issues (whether the rough sleeper has medication that requires refrigeration, for example), or other

concerns workers should be aware of if and when they meet the rough sleeper.

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