Councils Trigger Emergency Support For Rough Sleepers Amid Heatwave

Charities have warned the coronavirus pandemic has made homeless people even more vulnerable in the extreme weather.

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Councils across London have activated emergency procedures to help rough sleepers as the capital swelters through a heatwave during the coronavirus pandemic.

The action comes amid warnings from homelessness charities that Covid-19 has made the extremely hot weather even more dangerous than usual to those without shelter.

With temperatures soaring as high as 33C in London, a number of local authorities have initiated their Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) – a series of procedures commonly rolled out in the winter amid freezing conditions.

But with the mercury soaring amid a six-day-long heatwave, councils said they had offered emergency accommodation to those needing respite from the heat, with some also opening up buildings to allow rough sleepers to escape the sun during the day.

Outreach teams have also been offering homeless people water, energy drinks, food and suncream, as well as access to toilet and shower facilities.

Among the councils which told HuffPost UK they were offering rough sleepers extra support during the heatwave were Hackney, Ealing, Lewisham, Newham and Westminster.

Heather Action, a Westminster City councillor, warned that hot weather “can be just as dangerous as the cold” for people living on the streets.

On social media, councillors from Haringey Council and Islington Council also shared details of the local authorities’ SWEP protocols.

Laura Shovlin, from the homelessness charity St Mungo’s, said that outreach services were vital during extremely high temperatures, but even more so during the coronavirus pandemic.

“If people are already in poor physical and mental health, then continued exposure to heat, including dehydration, sunburn or heatstroke, can exacerbate problems – even more so during the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said.

“This is due to an increase in the likelihood of the transfer of fluids as people perspire more or may share water or utensils. NHS findings show transmission has been linked to droplets lingering on surfaces.”

Shovlin added: “People who are sleeping rough are less likely to have access to masks or other protective items which can act as barriers.”

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the government brought thousands of rough sleepers in off the streets to prevent the spread of coronavirus and allow homeless people to be able to self-isolate.

In June, ministers announced £85m of new funding to help homeless people find long-term accommodation.

But Homeless Link, which represents a number of homeless charities in England, told HuffPost UK that despite many rough sleepers being found somewhere to stay, councils must still activate emergency responses to the heatwave.

Caroline Bernard, head of policy and communications, said: “Not everyone has been brought in off the streets, some people have returned to rough sleeping and others are being forced to sleep rough for the first time as a direct impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and a range of other reasons.

“This is incredibly dangerous in this heat, and emergency support will be vital in these cases.”

It’s a call echoed by Matt Turtle from the Museum of Homelessness, a social justice organisation.

“It’s good that some councils are carrying out SWEP activity in the heat, but we want all councils to proactively implement SWEP when there is a danger to life,” he said.

“We need a consistency in how and when SWEP is implemented and better communications with those of us working directly with the homeless community.

“This has always been important but given the extra risks posed by the pandemic we need to ensure we are all working together to save lives.”


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