Woman wearing coat hat and scarf against freezing cold walking alone down snowy street in blizzard

Helping rough sleepers in the freezing weather

Helping a rough sleeper, especially in the current freezing weather conditions, could save their life.

In official counts last autumn, more than 4,700 people were seen sleeping rough on any one night in England. Some long-term rough sleepers are referred to accommodation for the first time in a long time only after being hospitalised. It is more urgent than ever to help people find safe shelter, and because of the temperatures being below freezing, there are more emergency beds and hostels available.

Here are some initial steps to take:

  • Refer the person to an outreach team. There have been a record number of referrals to the new StreetLink app, which is a quick way to alert local outreach teams across England and Wales to a rough sleeper.

You can visit their website or download their app on your phone. Making an online referral allows StreetLink to process it more efficiently and reach the homeless person more quickly. When you can’t report in-app or online, call their 24-hour hotline on 0300 500 0914. You need to give as much detail about the person and location as possible, such as what time they sleep, where they sleep, and some details of their physical appearance. Any information is useful if a person doesn’t want to talk to you.

  • Offer hot food or drink.

If a person is not able to move somewhere warm or be met by a street team immediately, something hot may help to tide them over.

  • Offer spare socks, hats, gloves or scarves.

Some people have left knitted scarves tied to lampposts for rough sleepers to collect. Why not empty out drawers for old, and even odd, socks and gloves. It is not only uncomfortable but also dangerous to have cold, wet feet for long periods of time. An extra layer may help to prevent hypothermia.

  • Offer sleeping bags, blankets, or bin liners.

If you can afford to bring larger items to people, see if they need an extra sleeping bag, blanket, or even bin liner, which will help keep off the damp as well as cold.

  • Show compassion.

Whatever the individual has been through, they may have a reason to mistrust people, however genuine their actions. They may be really pleased to have a conversation with another person, or they may not want to talk at all.