Helping rough sleepers

Sleeping rough can harm your physical and mental health, you’re at risk of theft and violence, and plummeting temperatures can lead to hypothermia. During the coldest months it is important we step up our support for those struggling on the street. 

1. Send a StreetLink Alert
Streetlink is a tool that enables you to help people sleeping on the street by connecting them with local outreach services. All you have to do is provide a few details, including the location of someone sleeping rough. Outreach workers will then try to make contact and provide expert support. You can do this via the StreetLink app, call 0300 500 0914, or visit its website. However, do not contact Streetlink if; the person needs immediate medical attention or is in danger, then call 111 or 999 and/or you think the person you are concerned about is under 18. Please call the police instead.

2. Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP)

During periods of severe weather local authorities usually provide facilities for people sleeping rough to minimise the risk of death from exposure to adverse weather conditions. There is no statutory definition of ‘severe weather’. It has been understood to include extreme cold, snow, rain, wind and heat. Local authorities are encouraged to be flexible about when assistance is necessary and follow the Met Office’s UK weather warnings.

Assist the homeless when severe winter weather is likely by making sure they know where shelters are located. Or go the extra mile and pay for a night in a hotel room.

3. Should I give money?

UK homelessness charities are almost unanimous on the question of giving money: it is better not to. It’s great to acknowledge the intended kindness but with 4 in 10 people saying they have or are recovering from a drug habit, and a quarter from a drink problem it’s kinder not to give them the temptation.

Not only does money often fuel addictions to drugs and drink (usually super-strength lager and cider), it also delays people seeking or accepting help with addiction or other health problems and moving off the streets, according to Thames Reach’s online advice, which says: “Giving to people who beg is not a benign act. It can have fatal consequences.”

In this article we outline better ways to support those living on the streets.

4. Say Hello
Being on the street can be a lonely place. Everyone’s busy people these days, rushing from one thing to the next. But if you’ve got the time, stopping to say hello or a quick chat can lift someone’s spirits, make a massive difference to someone’s day and restore their faith in humanity.

5. Caffe sospeso / suspended coffee
The tradition of Caffe sospeso began in Naples, Italy. If you had experienced good luck, you could order a sospeso, paying the price of two coffees but receiving only one. Later that day, someone who needed it could ask if there were any sospeso available and receive a free coffee.

In the UK, this is called pay it forward. Ask a local café if they will let you do this for someone!

6. Give a gift
A personalised gift with a heartfelt message can significantly impact the people, especially at Christmas. You can purchase a personalised gift to a Christmas dinner at a local shelter. Etsy is a great option too, although not for Christmas dinners.

7. Donate your coat and or donate to Charity
You can donate winter clothing to organisations or directly to someone on the streets if you speak to them about it first.
If you’d rather support a Charity is a worthy option or you can support a smaller local organisation.

8. Pop to the shop
If you’re popping into your local shop for some supplies, you could ask someone if there’s anything they need. It could be a drink, a snack, pet food or even some toiletries. Remember to ask first if they have a preference. Like anyone else, they might have dietary requirements or just really desire a particular biscuit!

9. Volunteer your time
If you’re short of cash, you can still make a difference by donating your time and skills. People volunteer with us for many different reasons. Perhaps you have some free time and want to make a difference in your local community? Maybe you’re looking to gain new skills or share your expertise? Perhaps you would like to meet like-minded people?