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How can we support rough sleepers during the winter months?

  • Publish Date: Posted over 4 years ago
  • Author:by Lewis Hodson

Recent statistics show that in the last eight years the number of rough sleepers in England has increased by 165%, and on any night there are 4,677 people sleeping on the street. Meanwhile, 61% of the British public are angry, upset or frustrated about this homeless crisis, and an even larger 69% feel helpless in the fight against it. The feeling of despair is heightened over Christmas when we encounter rough sleepers whilst enjoying the season's festivities, wrapped up in layers and returning to our warm homes.

While the government has increased funding and the social work sector has implemented more initiatives to assist rough sleepers, it’s important that you know what you can do on the individual-level and pass this knowledge onto others so they can help too. Here’s how we can support rough sleepers during the winter months:

Understanding how people become rough sleepers

Rough sleeping is not a choice for everyone. Various events can cause someone to lose the roof over their head, such as losing their job and not having access to benefits, a relationship breakdown, or fleeing one’s country to seek asylum. One proven cause of the increase in rough sleeping over the last few decades is the rising cost of rent in cities all around the globe.

It’s not easy to imagine the difficult circumstances these people have faced, so instead we often observe mental health issues and addictions and suspect these are the reasons for their poor living conditions. In fact, sleeping rough is often the cause of deteriorating physical and mental health and it also endangers the individual’s safety. The average person sleeping on London’s streets lives to just 44 years old. This alarming figure should be the motivation we all need to question what we can do to get people into permanent housing so that they can live a longer and more fulfilling life. Here are some great options for you:


Donating your money is the fastest way to help rough sleepers, but how do you decide who to donate to? Consider local charities that support the Housing First initiative, which aims to provide social housing even for those who have complex needs - such as a drug dependency - and offers on-going support. Mainstream services are not set up to house those that have certain physical and mental health needs, while the Housing First approach has helped find a home for 70-90% of those who were entered in the system.

To keep our nation’s rough sleepers warm, offer any clothing you no longer need to those on the streets or visit Drop Point’s Homeless Support page which shows what items are in need in your area - such as men’s socks. Another great way to keep someone warm and lift their spirits is to buy them a hot drink. And here is one that doesn’t cost a penny – wish them Merry Christmas. This priceless interaction helps to bridge the gap between us and the homeless community, because not only is it dangerous to be sleeping on the streets but it’s also isolating.

Notify your local authorities

In the winter months, emergency shelters are set up to ensure that no one is sleeping outside. Using the Street Link app you can inform local services the whereabouts of a rough sleeper which ensures that the right help is sent out to them. In the first five years, the service generated 92,000 alerts and the initiative continues to be a success as StreetLink creates more resources to inform the general public on how we can help rough sleepers this Christmas.

Volunteer your time

Charities have widened the scope of volunteering options, meaning that everyone can find an initiative they’re comfortable with. Crisis at Christmas have spaces on their catering team, interesting knowledge sharer roles where you can donate your IT expertise so guests can develop their skills, plus various spots on the wellbeing team such as hairdressing and looking after guests’ dogs.

Initiate the conversation

Paul Noblet, Head of Public Affairs at Centrepoint, reminds us that to combat against homelessness we must continue drawing attention to the issue. Paul’s advice via the Evening Standard is, “Try and keep the issue on the top of the political agenda. If your local MP is having a coffee morning, go along and spark up a conversation about it.”

How the social work sector is helping rough sleepers this Christmas

The steady increase in rough sleeping since 2010 has been met with the introduction of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. This reformed legislation enables social workers to help people regardless of whether they are a ‘priority need’ or ‘intentionally homeless’. In just six months the act prevented 10,000 people from becoming homeless. And the good news doesn’t stop there; since Housing First was introduced in the UK in 2017 there’s been compelling evidence that it’s significantly helped towards eradicating homelessness for those with complex needs. 

Dr Philip Timms, a consultant psychiatrist, developed a guide for those helping rough sleepers with mental illnesses. The step-by-step process outlines how social workers can effectively assess the risk factors and mental capacity of individuals on the street and refer them to the appropriate organisation or initiative. The guide includes a checklist, explicitly outlining steps that social workers should follow to ensure that all decisions are made in the best interest of the individual.

Social housing professionals can do many things to combat homelessness, through both their day-to-day jobs and also in their spare time.” Read more about how one of Service Care Solution’s consultants, Paul Magee, took part in The Big Sleep Out which raised over £55,000 for The Foxton Centre.

Find your next social housing job with Service Care Solutions

Are you looking for a new job in the social housing sector? We have various social housing jobs, ranging from entry-level to directorships in both the public and private sector. Or if you’re interested in other sectors view our wide range of current jobs here.

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