A record number of rough sleepers were referred to a specialist helpline by the public as “overstretched” charities struggled to cope with unprecedented demand as a big freeze gripped the UK.
Nationwide 3,600 people were reported as sleeping on the streets as snow blanketed the UK and temperatures plummeted as low as minus 10C.
The charity, which sends crisis teams to help the homeless, described the public’s response as “overwhelming” as shelters across the capital battled to keep people off the streets.
A spokeswoman told the Standard that “overstretched” crisis teams struggled to cope as the number of alerts exceeded the number of beds available in London.
She said: “The crisis teams are obviously stretched. Where long-term hostels are full, the teams are working to find spaces in emergency shelters through agencies like St Mungo’s and individual borough councils.
“Where there isn’t accommodation teams support people to find the right help and ensure they are visiting day centres.”
Jon Sparkes chief executive of national homelessness charity Crisis said the huge increase in reports of rough sleepers was “a devastating indication of just how many people are being forced to sleep out in potentially deadly situations”.
London’s homeless outreach services will be operating under severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP), which is activated when temperatures drop below a certain level for three days running.
St Mungo’s confirmed the organisation provides 100 emergency SWEP beds each night across the capital.
But, director of outreach services Petra Salva warned of the potentially fatal dangers faced by those sleeping in sub-zero temperatures.
She said: “We will be working day and night to help as many people inside as possible. Rough sleeping is harmful and dangerous but when temperatures drop, lives are at risk.
“Health problems connected to continued exposure to the freezing cold, including hypothermia, exacerbate people’s already poor physical and mental health.
“It’s vital that we get help to people quickly so we can save lives but also in the longer term, find people permanent accommodation and the space to recover.”
Sadiq Khan announced that London’s emergency shelters would be open to help people find a warm and safe place to sleep.
The Mayor’s homeless services will act in addition to those provided by local boroughs.
The shocking statistics come just weeks after a homeless man known to frequent a spot outside Parliament died after sleeping on the streets.
The rough sleeper, who is believed to have frequently slept outside the Tube entrance of Portcullis House, was found unresponsive on the morning of Valentine’s Day.
His death prompted tributes from MPs and sparked calls for politicians to take up the “moral challenge” of homelessness.
Popular pizza chain Franco Manco offered to supply shelters with free food.
Three Mobile urged customers benefiting from a free Domino’s Pizza to donate it to a homeless shelter.
The UK has been gripped by a week-long Siberian blast dubbed the Beast from the East.
Snow blanketed the country overnight on Tuesday as the Met Office issued a red weather warning of “potential risk to life” on Wednesday.
London has been hit with an amber warning for snow and ice while a yellow warning was issued for a huge swathe of Britain.
Anyone aware of someone sleeping rough is encouraged to contact Streetlink.
For more information on how to help homeless people and rough sleepers in London, you can visit the Mayor’s homelessness advice page.