This week, temperatures dropped as low as -15C in some parts of the UK. The heavy snow and ice led to train cancellations, flight delays and road accidents, and also triggered local authorities to activate SWEP (Severe Weather Emergency Protocol).
SWEP is introduced whenever the Met Office forecasts a temperature below zero, meaning that local homelessness agencies have to provide extra beds. But even with those emergency protocols in place, many rough sleepers will still be vulnerable to serious illness and even death.
So how can you support those facing homelessness, wherever you are in the UK? Here are a few easy things you can do.
1. Download Streetlink
Streetlink is a website and phone app that allows users to alert authorities to someone sleeping rough in England and Wales. Volunteers can help people facing homelessness find a bed for the night, as well as point them to long-term support services. Download the app here.
2. Contact your local council
Streetlink is the quickest way to find support for those sleeping rough, but it does not guarantee the person will receive help. You can also contact your local council, which can help locate a bed for those facing homelessness. Since SWEP was activated, more beds have been opened up in night shelters across the UK.
3. Speak to the homeless
Facing homelessness is extremely challenging, and there can be days where they might not communicate with anyone at all. If you are able, you can ask a homeless person what they need, and help them source food, a hot drink, money for shelter or warm clothing. The Big Issue has some helpful tips for reaching out to homeless people here.
5. Volunteer at Crisis
Every winter, the charity Crisis turns unused buildings across the country into makeshift shelters. The initiative gives rough sleepers both a place to stay and access to specialist advice around skills training, education, employment and more. You can donate to Crisis at Christmas here, or sign up to volunteer in person here. Crisis have centres in Birmingham, Coventry, Edinburgh, London, Merseyside, Newcastle, Oxford and South Wales.
6. Donate to Shelter
The charity Shelter is running a campaign to end child homelessness this winter. You can donate directly, through your payroll or through a trust or foundation. Alternatively, you can give items to their charity shops, raise money for them, donate in memory of a loved one or leave a gift in your will. Donate here.
7. Join the campaign to end the housing crisis
Shelter has also come up with three main objectives to tackle the root causes of homelessness. It is calling for more social housing, for a Local Housing Allowance and for an end to section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions. Sign the petition to demand more social housing here and learn more about the campaign here.
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