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UK weather: How to help rough sleepers during the bitterly cold winter temperatures

The weather across the UK remains bitingly cold, with temperatures hovering around freezing. © Provided by The i A homeless person’s tent is erected in Southend-on-Sea’s Cliff Gardens in Essex (Photo: PA)
For rough sleepers, there are few ways to shiel…

The weather across the UK remains bitingly cold, with temperatures hovering around freezing.

(C) Provided by The i A homeless person's tent is erected in Southend-on-Sea's Cliff Gardens in Essex (Photo: PA)

For rough sleepers, there are few ways to shield from record lows on the mercury, strong winds and snowy conditions. There are thought to be more than 4,000 rough sleepers in England alone. "Rough sleeping at any time of year is dangerous, but the current cold snap combined with the high number of coronavirus cases makes this potentially life-threatening," Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said.

The homelessness charity also highlighted the importance of showing rough sleepers some kindness this winter. Here are five practical ways that you can help:

Have a chat

(C) Provided by The i A friendly chat can make a big difference (Photo: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

Sleeping rough can be a lonely experience, so "a friendly hello can make a difference", according to Shelter. The charity advises members of the public who are keen to chat to remember social distancing rules during the pandemic and to ask rough sleepers if they would like any help.

Homeless Link, another charity, also highlights the importance of social interaction at a safe distance.

How to help support young rough sleepers

Centrepoint, a charity that helps young people who are sleeping rough, says the public can help by "having a conversation over a hot drink". Head of public affairs Paul Noblet said: "When you have no place to call home, finding a safe and warm place to spend the night can be a frightening and lonely experience at any time of the year. Every night, hundreds of young people risk their lives trying to find a place to sleep and the cold weather only places them at more risk.

"There are a number of ways you can support people sleeping rough, for immediate support you can refer them to Streetlink, which allows the public to connect rough sleepers with local services that are available. Another way to support is simply stopping and talking to them to ask if there is anything they need. We know that while long-term help for homeless young people makes the biggest difference, having a conversation over a hot drink can be really important.

"If you know a young person who might be at risk of homelessness, you can call the Centrepoint Helpline for free on 0808 800 0661 or pass on the number to them. It's available for any young person aged 16-25 and is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm."

Help in the cold

Given the bitterly cold weather, members of the public can make a huge difference by offering rough sleepers a hot drink, food, warm clothing or blankets. They can also ask what someone might need.

Remember the pandemic is ongoing so it is important to act in a Covid-secure manner and sanitise any items you give. "Given current social distancing guidance and the potential to catch the virus through contact with surfaces it may be living on (eg. coins or plastic packaging), please think carefully and check if the person is happy to accept before giving items such as cash, food, blankets or other supplies to someone on the street. Instead you could ask a nearby cafe if they will let you 'pay it forward', purchasing items for the person to collect," said Fiona Colley, director of social justice at Homeless Link.

Give money

(C) Provided by The i A homeless man sits reading by a window on December 2020 in London (Photo: Peter Summers/Getty Images)

Giving money is another way to help rough sleepers.

Chief executive Jon Sparkes told the PA news agency: "If you do decide to give someone money, do it in good faith as one human being to another, and as a matter of kindness." "The people I talk to often tell me that moment someone showed them some kindness was a real turning point for them." You can also donate money directly to Crisis, which will go towards the charity's work helping homeless people.

Other options include leaving a gift in your will or signing up to Art from Crisis. For GBP8 a month, subscribers receive an art card designed by an artist at the charity, with the money going towards ending homelessness. Kindness Homeless Street Team Glasgow, which has been giving food parcels to queues of people in heavy snow, has said that people can donate money to its GoFundMe page.

It's worth finding local homelessness services and supporting them with a donation.

(C) Provided by The i Kindness Homeless Street Team Glasgow showing a foodbank support station with people queuing during freezing weather in Glasgow (Photo: PA)

Arrange help

Members of the public can ask rough sleepers if they would like support, and then put them in contact with a local outreach service or local authority through the StreetLink app or website. It logs a person's location so that they can be found and offered help. This is aimed at people over the age of 18 in England and Wales.

In Scotland you can contact Simon Community. There is also a Simon Community in Northern Ireland. The Homeless Link Directory has details of hostels, day centres and places serving free food and drink.

There is also advice on accommodation. If you're seriously concerned about someone's wellbeing and health, contact the emergency services.

Donating food and time

Your local homelessness service might be in need of volunteers, says Homeless Link. The public can also donate to local food banks.

Rough sleepers should be able to get a food bank voucher from a charity.