What To Do If You See Someone Sleeping Rough This Winter

Photo: George Rose/Getty Images
The British are known for their disproportionate reaction to snow, ice and the biting cold, and now that the temperature has plummeted across much of the UK, we simply won't shut up about it.
But, rather than worrying about our own chapped skin or commute to work, more of us should spare a thought for those without a roof over their heads this winter.
There are more than 300,000 people in Britain officially recorded as homeless or living in inadequate housing, and more than 9,000 people recorded as rough sleepers, according to a new report. A cross-party group of MPs has described homelessness in England as a "national crisis", claiming the government's approach to tackling it is "unacceptably complacent".
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While the government has the biggest role to play, it's everyone's responsibility to help those affected by homelessness. Our first reaction may be to hand over cash, food or hot drinks, a response that's often welcomed, but the benefits of these often last for a few hours at most. Here are some other ways we can support those affected by homelessness this winter.

Report the sighting online

By simply reporting the sighting online or over the phone, you can connect someone sleeping rough to services that will take care of them. If you're in England or Wales, alert StreetLink (online, via their app or on 0300 500 0914) of the sighting and the charity will put them in touch with local services that can support them.
All you have to do is create an account, which takes less than a minute, and input the time and location of the sighting, along with any other relevant information. The details are then referred to charities' outreach teams which will then do their best to contact the rough sleeper.
Sadly, it's a bit more difficult to help if you're in Scotland or Northern Ireland as there's no centralised service bringing homelessness charities together. Reach out to the local council or local charities, like Shelter, and let them know if you spot someone sleeping rough.

Refer them directly to a shelter

There are many shelters and buildings opening specifically to take people in over the Christmas period, which those sleeping rough may not be aware of. Find homelessness services in your area of England via Homeless Link and alert anyone who's sleeping rough of where they can go.
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If you're in London, which has one of the country's highest rates of homelessness, there's a full list of winter shelters on Homeless Link. London Euston station will become a homeless shelter on Christmas day, serving a festive dinner to more than 200 rough sleepers thanks to volunteers from Network Rail, homeless charity St Mungo's and Streets Kitchen. Other temporary shelters have sprung up around the country, such as in Liverpool, and will remain open all winter. Look for details of those in your area in local news outlets and/or on social media.

Concrete ways you can help

Offer crucial supplies, such as warm outwear or a blanket, and there's no harm in giving food or a hot drink if that's all you can manage. If you're in Nottingham, you can tell rough sleepers about the new vending machine at the Intu shopping centre, which provides food and other essentials for homeless people with a special keycard.
On the question of giving money, some UK homeless charities say it's better not to because of the prevalence of drugs on the streets, while others, like Crisis, say it's a "personal choice".
Alternatively, you can reserve a rough sleeper a place at Crisis for Christmas. For just £26.08, this buys someone in need a hot Christmas dinner, advice and support, healthcare, a year's worth of access to the charity's training and support services, and more. All for the cost of a few festive cocktails.
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