When the temperatures plummet in the winter, sleeping rough becomes more than a daily grind for survival – it becomes a matter of life and death.
If you spot someone living on the streets as the cold sets in this winter, there are few things you can do to ensure that they do not become another statistic joining the 449 people who died homeless last year, many while living on the streets.
In England and Wales, StreetLink has fast become the best way to connect rough sleepers with outreach services to get them the help they need with partners Homeless Link and St Mungo’s.
It’s simple: download the app or use their website or phone line and send details of where and when you see them as well as a brief description of the person.
StreetLink has proved popular in times of extreme cold, when the ‘Beast for the East’ brought Britain to a snowy standstill in March the service received a record 3,600 messages in just 24 hours.
But it’s important to know that it is not a magic bullet to stop rough sleeping – Crisis found that just five per cent of referrals – or 4,367 cases – since 2012 have led to a person being housed either permanently or temporarily.
The chaotic nature of rough sleeping and the prospect of repeat referrals can perhaps explain those figures though and the service has engaged a rough sleeper with services in 5,768 cases across England and 219 in Wales in that time.
In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.
Scotland, however, does not have a centralised equivalent service and you should check with your local council for more details.
‘The Beast from the East’ also placed a closer scrutiny on how cities across the UK are protecting their rough sleepers from the cold.
In London, mayor Sadiq Khan has set up a No Nights Sleeping Rough Taskforce to join up experts, councils and charities with Londoners to identify and offer shelter to rough sleepers.
His Manchester counterpart Andy Burnham has launched a similar initiative called A Bed Every Night in his city and has been providing updates on Twitter throughout November and December.
Latest #BedEveryNight update: 176 people in shelters; 113 supported into a known address; 375 helped in total. Thanks to everyone involved.
— Andy Burnham (@AndyBurnhamGM) December 5, 2018
Connecting rough sleepers with services like these all across the UK as well as local grassroots movements can make all the difference once the sub-zero temperatures come.
And, of course, Big Issue vendors will be out in all weathers selling the magazine.
The same advice applies to help them keep the cold at bay. But why not strike up a conversation or maybe even buy them a hot drink when you see them on their pitch?
And maybe even buy the magazine to help them lift themselves out of poverty.