What you can do to help if you see a homeless person sleeping rough this winter

·3-min read
A homeless person lays in a sleeping bag on a pavement near Piccadilly Circus in central London on 25 November 2020. (Getty Images)
A homeless person lays in a sleeping bag on a pavement near Piccadilly Circus in central London on 25 November 2020. (Getty Images)

With temperatures dropping during the winter months, conditions are becoming even more difficult for homeless people.

During the winter the dangers of sleeping rough increase, with people more likely to develop physical health conditions from being outside in the cold.

This is in addition to the dangers already faced by rough sleepers, such as violence and theft.

There are fears that numbers of rough sleepers will increase this winter due to the government's Everyone In scheme coming to an end.

The scheme was introduced in March 2020 at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK, to provide emergency accommodation to people sleeping on the streets.

As of January 2021, the programme had given shelter to more than 37,000 homeless people.

Official figures from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government show that at least 11,500 households “may have slept rough one night or across several nights” between April 2020 and March 2021.

The data shows the scale of the challenge that the government is facing in trying to reach its goal of ending rough sleeping by 2024.

What should I do if I see someone sleeping rough?

For those wondering what to do if they are concerned about someone sleeping rough, the homeless charity St Mungo’s recommends that the first thing to do is ask if they need help.

The charity advises "talking to the person, listening to them, and asking if they’d like anything other than money, for example, some support away from the streets".

Speaking to and acknowledging a homeless person can make a huge difference to their state of mind as loneliness is higher among homeless people than in the general population, according to a study by the charity Crisis.

A survey taken in 2015 found that 61% of homeless services users often or sometimes feel lonely and 31% often feel socially isolated.

Watch: How the pandemic has led to a rise in 'the working homeless'

The next thing you can do is contact the local authority in that area.

In England and Wales, an app called StreetLink helps members of the public connect people who are sleeping rough with the local services that can support them.

You can enter the details, including the location, time and any details which help identify the person like what they look like and what they’re wearing onto the StreetLink app or the online form.

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These are then sent to the local authority or outreach service to help them find the individual and connect them to support.

‘Outreach teams’ use the information you’ve provided to find individuals who are sleeping rough, assess their needs and move them into accommodation as soon as possible.

If the person you are concerned about is under 18 you should not contact StreetLink but instead call the police, and if a person is in immediate danger or in urgent need of care you should call 999 immediately.

Poor mental health is both a cause and consequence of homelessness. (Getty Images)
Poor mental health is both a cause and consequence of homelessness, according to the charity Crisis. (Getty Images)

Another way you can help tackle homelessness is by donating to charity.

Charities such as St Mungo's and Crisis help find people accommodation but also try to help people recover from homelessness through training and education.

They accept one-off or monthly donations.

Other charities offer help to specific vulnerable groups, such as Centrepoint, which allows you to sponsor a room for a young person aged 16-25 years old for 40p a day, or Naccom which helps provide accommodation for asylum seekers, refugees and other people who are not able to access public housing because of their immigration status.

If you would like to volunteer to support a homeless person yourself, you can contact these charities or get in touch with your local authority as they are often looking for volunteers to help tackle the issue of homelessness.

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