As temperatures plunge to record lows and with snow still fresh on ground, rough sleepers are at risk far more than during the rest of the year.
The freezing weather leaves those who have nowhere warm to stay at best extremely uncomfortable, and at worst in a genuinely life-threatening situation, at risk from exposure and hypothermia.
Rough sleepers HuffPost UK spoke to this week during the sub-zero temperatures said they knew of somebody who had died as a result of extreme weather conditions.
There are more than 300,000 people in the UK recorded as homeless, almost one in 200, according to Shelter, 4,500 of whom are sleeping rough. A further 21,300 are in hostels or social housing.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “It’s shocking to think that today, more than 300,000 people in Britain are waking up homeless. Some will have spent the night shivering on a cold pavement, others crammed into a dingy, hostel room with their children. And what is worse, many are simply unaccounted for.”
On top of the risks facing rough sleepers all year round, such as being 17 times more likely than the general public to face a risk of physical violence, it’s not a great outlook.
But there are also many other ways you can help...
1) Give your old coat a new home
Coat exchanges have proved really popular in places like Yorkshire and Essex and they are a brilliantly simple way of helping people who can’t afford a coat to stay warm this winter.
The premise is simple: set up a rail or similar where people can take a coat if they need one or leave one if they want to pass it on to someone in need.
Fay Sibley, who set one up in Colchester last year, told HuffPost UK: “With the weather being as it is and the winter coming, this seemed like such a simple idea where it doesn’t cost anyone anything. These are coats that people don’t want anymore, they’re just sitting there but this could potentially even save someone’s life, what with the snow coming.
“It’s such a simple gesture to donate something you don’t want anymore but it might help someone who needs it.
2) Use an app
Evidence suggests that some rough sleepers may not be known to local services and that not all rough sleepers are aware that advice and services are available to them.
If you’ve seen someone sleeping rough and are worried about them, there’s an app that makes it easy to alert local authorities to the situation.
When a rough sleeper is reported via the Streetlink app, the details are sent to the local authority concerned, so they can help connect the person to local services and support. You will also receive an update on what action was taken so you’ll know if the situation was resolved.
Matt Harrison, director of StreetLink, explained: “StreetLink enables people to take immediate action when they are concerned about someone sleeping rough in their community by alerting local services. With the public’s help, in the last 12 months we have already connected over 10,000 people with the support they needed to escape rough sleeping.
“Anyone can become homeless and sleeping on the streets is dangerous. We hope that many more people will do what they can to support organisations working to end homelessness, and will join the movement and take that first, simple step by using StreetLink to help when they see someone sleeping rough, no matter what the time of year.”
3) Go shopping - with a difference
If you want to help provide items which will help keep people warm, one campaign based in London (although it has now spread to San Francisco as well) has the answer.
Crack + Cider - so named because of what one homeless man told them people believed he would spend his money on - has a range of items which you can “buy” which will then be distributed to those most in need.
They have worked with homeless organisations to formulate a range of items which are particularly useful, which includes hats, gloves, socks, fleece jumpers, backpacks, umbrellas and military grade waterproof jackets.
There are also female hygiene kits and canine care packs available for purchase.
Visit the Crack + Cider website for more information here.
4) Stop for a cup of tea and a chat
Stopping for a chat over a cup of tea and a sandwich is a great British past-time and can make all the difference to a person’s day, whether homeless or not.
If you feel comfortable doing so, buying someone a hot drink or even a meal is an easy way of showing someone else some kindness and can make sure they don’t go hungry.
Matt Downies, director of policy and external affairs at Crisis, said: “A bit of human contact could make a huge difference.”
If you’ve got spare time to give, why not get stuck in with some volunteering?
Whether you want to help once a week or once a month, there are a range of opportunities around the country.
National charities like Crisis and Shelter detail all their volunteering opportunities on their websites or keep it local by contacting your neaest homeless charity or shelter to ask what sort of help they need.
Do It is also a database with over a million volunteering places available.