Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Red tape leaves half of rough sleepers without emergency shelter

February 10 2011
Simon Community snapshot survey reveals disturbing lack of provision

A snapshot survey by the Simon Community in London found that half of rough sleepers had not been offered emergency cold weather shelter - even in sub-zero temperatures.

The Simon Community was carrying out its annual survey of 90 people who use its services when it found the worrying trend and decided to do a smaller, follow-up questionnaire. This second survey was carried out in the London Borough of Westminster between 8pm and 10pm on 3 December. The 32 people surveyed were asked "Have you been offered emergency shelter in the last three days?". Nearly half replied "no".

That night, the temperature was -5C, with similarly sub-zero temperatures recorded on preceding nights. Under Severe Weather Emergency Protocols, local authorities are required to "take prompt action to ensure all rough sleepers have access to shelter if someone is at risk due to sleeping rough during the extreme cold weather". Extreme cold weather is classified as zero or sub-zero temperatures over three consecutive nights.

However, according to the Simon Community, the evidence from its survey suggests that action by local authorities is failing to reach people and putting lives at risk. Simon Community trustee Dave Clark said: "We have seen evidence of poor coordination, of unclear messages about who is entitled, and unnecessary bureaucracy. What we should be seeing, instead, is a major humanitarian effort to get people - no matter their background - in out of the cold."

The survey also found that of those who were offered a place, nearly 31 per cent chose to stay outside. "Many have felt that emergency shelters would be too busy or have problems with drink or drugs," explained the Simon Community press release, though it pointed out: "Those who have used the shelters report a broadly positive experience despite concerns about the numbers using them."

•   We are conducting our second annual "street count" using numbers from winter shelters on a set date - we are still making the calls, but should have a rough figure for March.