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 320,000 people in Britain officially recorded as homeless or living in inadequate housing, according to new research by Shelter – a staggering 4% rise in just a year – and the charity says this may even be an underestimate, as it doesn't take into account people who are "hidden" homeless (sofa-surfers and those living in cars, for example).
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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. Temporary shelters also tend to spring up at this time of year, so look for details of those in your area in local news outlets and/or on social media and refer those in need.

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. 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 £28.18, 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.
If you can't offer money, offer your time by volunteering at a homeless shelter over the festive period. Demand is higher in winter with more people needed for shifts, so get in touch with your local shelter and ask if they're in need.
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