What to do if you see someone sleeping rough this winter

Over quarter of a million people are currently homeless in England

Furvah Shah
Tuesday 06 December 2022 06:09 GMT
14ft tall sculpture of homeless person unveiled by Crown actor Jonathan Pryce

Around 274,000 people in England alone are homeless this winter, with at least 2,700 of those sleeping rough on any given night, despite temperatures reaching below freezing.

As the weather worsens, sleeping on the streets poses even more of a risk to life than normal but there are steps that can be taken to ensure that homeless people can stay safe during colder weather.

From calling helplines, offering food and belongings, to paying it forward at a café, there are things we can all do if we see someone sleeping rough in cold weather.

If you see someone in need of urgent medical care and attention, please call 999 to get them the help they need.

If you see someone sleeping rough, send an alert to StreetLink which is a national referral line and will enable local services to contact the individual in order to connect them to available support and accommodation.

You can do this on their website, by using their smartphone app or by calling 0300 500 0914.

By sending a StreetLink alert, local outreach teams in England will find and offer assistance to the person. In 2020, alerts like these helped 13,000 rough sleepers.

To send an alert, you will need a specific location for the rough sleeping site which you can find by using a map to pinpoint the exact location and then providing a written description of the location.

Details of the time that the rough sleeper has been seen at the location is also helpful, as is identifiable information about the person sleeping rough, such as gender, age and clothing.

If requested, you will receive an update on the action the local authority normally takes when they are told someone is sleeping rough in their area and an update on what has happened as a result of your alert within 10 working days.

Homelessness charity Homeless Link also recommends that people stop and have a conversation with those who are sleeping rough to provide much-needed social interaction and support.

“Once you have given someone cash you cannot expect to have any say in how they use it,” says homelessness charity
“Once you have given someone cash you cannot expect to have any say in how they use it,” says homelessness charity (Getty Images)

With regards to giving money, food or belongings, Homeless Link advises that people think carefully and check if the person is happy to accept such items.

Instead, you could visit a nearby café and ask if they will let you ‘pay it forward’ on an item for a homeless person to collet.

It is your choice whether to give money to homeless people on the street, with Homeless Link advising that you cannot then expect to have a say in how they use it.

“They might choose to buy food for themselves, or their families or pets,” says the charity. “But, if they have an addiction, they may use the money in ways that you wouldn’t choose yourself. Giving cash may help someone with their short-term needs, but it is unlikely to solve their problems in the longer term.”

Buying a copy of The Big Issue, is also recommended as a means of helping homeless people or those at risk of losing their home to earn money.

In 2021, an estimated 741 homeless people died in England and Wales, 54 per cent higher than when records began in 2013. This equates to two people dying every day.

As temperatures start to fall, helping the homeless becomes more crucial than ever.

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