United Kingdom

How to help the homeless in cold weather

During the cold months, here’s how to help homeless people (Picture: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

As winter looms, it seems the weather is getting colder (and more extreme) with each passing day.

Major storms and cold, snowy spells can prove a challenge for anyone – even from the comfort of their own home.

But for homeless people, and those sleeping rough on the streets, it’s an unimaginable, impossible time – during which their health is more at risk than any other time of year.

If you see someone sleeping rough and are concerned about their welfare, it’s important to seek help.

How you can help homeless people when it’s cold

If you’re in England or Wales, the best thing to do if you see someone who is sleeping rough is contact Streetlink.

Essentially, this allows you to send an alert to a local outreach service – such as your Local Authority or a homeless charity, such as St Mungo’s.

They will then be able to locate the person sleeping rough to make sure they know about the support available to them.

You’ll need to provide the exact location of the person you’re worried about by describing the area, as well as pinpointing it on a map – plus what time of day you saw or interacted with them.

You’ll also need to provide a description of their appearance, name, age (if possible) and other identifying characteristics – to help the outreach service identify them.

If you need make contact now, send your Streetlink alert via their website. Or call 0300 500 0914.

Provide details of surroundings, location and the individual to help the outreach team find them (Picture: Getty)

This advice only applies to adults. If the person appears to be under 18, you should contact the police instead.

Call 999 in an emergency if you believe someone needs immediate medical attention.

Finally, you can contact your local council to make a report or ensure that someone you’ve spotted locally is getting support. Find the best contact number or email address on gov.uk.

Many local authorities and charities operate a Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP).

Created by charity Homeless Link, the protocol aims to get people off the streets and into emergency accommodation, which can help prevent deaths during extreme weather.

So, they should have a plan in place to provide assistance to local homeless people.

Other ways to help the homeless this winter

Donate unused coats, blankets and sleeping bags (Picture: Getty)

If you want to do your part in tackling homelessness in the long term, there are other ways to help during winter – and throughout the year.

Donate coats and blankets

Got a coat you never wear? Donate them to a charity like Wrap Up UK.

Not in your area? Find your local homeless shelter, or a similar service, via Homeless Link, or visit the Salvation Army clothing bank to see what they currently need.

Likewise, blankets, sleeping bags and warm clothing are much-needed donations.

Offer warm drinks/food

If you want to offer something to a rough sleeper directly, you can always ask if they would like anything to eat or drink.

Speak to them first to ensure it’s something they want or need, and Shelter also says it’s okay to provide blankets, or warm clothing – as long as you’re sure it’s Covid-safe.

If you can’t offer anything, you can always offer a friendly hello, check they’re alright and contact Streetlink.

Donate to a charity or volunteer

Alternatively, you can make a donation to a homelessness charity, which will go towards providing shelter and food.

There are a number of UK charities you can donate to, including (but not limited to):

Many of these charities may be open to volunteers who have time, rather than money, to spare.

Visit their official websites above for further details on what’s needed – for example, Crisis advertises local volunteering opportunities across the UK.

Doctors, nurses, hairdressers, podiatrists, pharmacists, physiotherapists and kitchen staff are just a few of the people needed.

Drivers, advice-sharing volunteers and general helping hands are also valued.

Another way to help is by subscribing to The Big Issue, a magazine working to end homelessness.

Often, homeless people will work as vendors for the magazine – you can buy issues directly from them, or subscribe online.


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