A blanket of snow is expected across much of the UK on Tuesday evening, according to the Met Office, with yellow warnings in place for the south of England, East Midlands and West Midlands.
The freezing weather leaves those who have nowhere warm to stay at risk from exposure and hypothermia. This time last year, multiple rough sleepers told HuffPost UK they knew of somebody who had died on the streets as a result of the extreme weather conditions.
Taking action is vital to help those in need during this difficult time. Here are some ways we can all do our bit to help.
1. Alert The Authorities
Severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP) aims to get rough sleepers off the streets when the weather is freezing. Housing authorities are required to provide emergency accommodation for homeless people during periods of extreme cold weather.
To alert them to the location of a rough sleeper, use the Streetlink app. This sends the sleeper’s details 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.
If you have immediate concerns about a homeless person’s welfare, you should call 999.
2. Provide Shelter.
If you are fortunate enough to have a spare room free, perhaps you could offer shelter yourself? There are some brilliant charities helping to get people off the streets and into warm temporary homes. Refugees At Home helps match refugees and asylum seekers with people who have a spare room to host them, while charities like Nightstop match people who are homeless with suitable hosts.
3. Give Old Coats A New Home.
Coat exchanges have proven really popular in places like Yorkshire and Essex and 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, previously 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.”
4. Go Shopping (With A Difference).
If you want to help provide items which will help keep people warm, there are multiple ways to do so. Crack + Cider – so named because of what one homeless man said 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. The founders have worked with homeless organisations to formulate a range of items which are particularly useful, including hats, gloves, socks, fleece jumpers, backpacks, umbrellas and military grade waterproof jackets. Linkey is another London-based organisation doing the same.
If there isn’t an organisation like this in your hometown, why not make up a bag of essentials and give it to someone in need? Fill a bag with thermal gloves, socks and a hat, and any other items that will keep them warm.
5. Buy A Hot Meal.
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 they’re homeless or not.
There are different things you can do depending on what you are comfortable with, a Crisis spokesperson said. You might want to ask them if there’s anything they need – it could be a hot drink or food, or some spare change. Remember to ask first if they have a preference, as some homeless people can’t eat or drink certain things because of toothache. If they have a dog or cat with them, why not follow in TV presenter Lorraine Kelly’s footsteps and buy them some pet food too or give a warm blanket?
If you’ve got spare time to give, 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 you can keep it local by contacting your nearest homeless charity or shelter to ask what sort of help they need.
Do It is a database with over a million volunteering places available.
The scale of homelessness across the UK is vast. At least 320,000 people are registered as homeless – a rise in 4% since last year, though the figures are likely to be much higher.
If you’re short on time or live in a remote area, donating to charity can make the world of difference as these organisations have the knowledge and capacity to make real change. Some national charities worth donating to include: Centrepoint, Shelter, Crisis, End Youth Homelessness and Emmaus.
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