How you can help rough sleepers in this cold weather

Advice is being circulated by Shelter, Crisis and local councils

With snow and sub-zero temperatures hitting the UK, it’s a dangerous time for rough sleepers. Recent deaths of homeless people have been reported in Westminster, Edinburgh and Chelmsford, which have been linked to the freezing conditions. According to research by Crisis, there are around 9,000 people sleeping on Britain’s streets right now.

NME has spoken to homelessness charities to find out how to help rough sleepers in this cold weather.

Contact StreetLink

If you see someone sleeping rough and you live in England or Wales, then get in touch with StreetLink, which helps to connect homeless people with their local services. You can send StreetLink an alert via its website, app, or by calling 0300 500 0914.

When you do send an alert, you should include three things:

1) A specific location for the rough sleeping site. You can do this by using a map to pinpoint the exact location and then providing a written description of the location.
2) Details of the time that the rough sleeper has been seen at the location.
3) Any information about the rough sleeper that will help find them (gender, approximate age, what the person looks like, what they are wearing).

A Shelter spokesperson told NME“If you are worried about someone sleeping rough in the cold and snow, contact your local homelessness service or StreetLink who have outreach services that can go directly to the person.”

Get in touch with your local council

If you live in Scotland, you should get let your local council know if you see a rough sleeper. With temperatures plummeting below zero, some local authorities across the UK, like Lancaster and Bradford, are also providing emergency help and accommodation in response to the cold weather.

“Rough sleeping at any time of year is incredibly dangerous, but when it’s this cold it can be deadly,” Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis told NME. “We’re urging councils across the country to open their emergency winter night shelters and ensure no one is left alone and freezing on the streets.”

Help them find shelter

Charities and local authorities across the UK are offering emergency winter night shelters as a result of the weather – so get in touch to see what they are offering. You can see a list of London’s winter shelters on Homeless Link, and also search its directory for accommodation across Britain.

You can also direct homeless people to day centres throughout the country, where they can get warm, and will be given food and showers. You can find your nearest day centre using Homeless Link’s directory.

Stop and talk, offer a hot drink or a sandwich

Homelessness can be tough and lonely so, if you see a rough sleeper, go and talk to them. Offer them a hot drink or sandwich and keep them company while finding out what further help you could offer.

“One of the most important things you can do is simply stop and talk to someone,” Crisis said on Twitter. “Rough sleeping can be an isolating, devastating experience – a shared word could make all the difference.”

Use social media

Charities and local councils are posting regularly on social media, detailing what help is available for rough sleepers and appealing for donations. Try searching for hashtags like #HelpRoughSleepers, #homeless, and #roughsleeping to see what shelter is being offered. 

Charities like Crisis are posting threads telling people how they can help rough sleepers, too.

Donate warm clothing

A number of organisations throughout the UK, such as NUFC Fans Food Bank in Newcastle and the Pioneers Museum in Rochdale, are asking for donations of warm clothing to distribute to homeless people.

How can homeless people get advice?

Rough sleepers can get help and advice help from Shelter’s free helpline by calling 0808 800 4444, or heading to www.shelter.org.uk/get_help . 

Donate money

Donate money directly to homelessness charities like Crisis, Shelter, St Mungo’s and The Warmer Streets Project.

Become a host

If you have a spare room, you can put up a homeless person for a night or two using organisations like Nightstop, which works to ensure young people have a safe place to sleep. Homeless Link also has a toolkit for hosting asylum seekers and refugees.

If it’s urgent, call 999

Lastly, if you see a homeless person in need of urgent medical help, call 999 immediately.