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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Cold snap

May 18 2009
Plummeting temperatures endanger rough sleepers‘ health, says cold weather shelter coordinator As the snow and sleet settled, albeit briefly, on London's cobbled streets last month, the capital was temporarily thrown into disarray. The cold snap grounded planes, stopped trains, and - despite their apparent being sheltered from the weather - even slowed the tube. City workers attended meetings swaddled in scarves, and a thousand tourists camera lenses steamed over. But for some of the city's residents, the plummeting temperatures represented greater danger rather than temporary inconvenience. In December's issue of The Pavement we reported that The Passage was collaborating with local authorities to prevent loss of life on London's streets this winter. By using daily forecasts from the Met Office, Nik Ward, Buildings Based Services Co-ordinator, and his colleagues aim to get more people off the streets and into shelters when the weather is due to get colder, in what is known as a Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP). At the beginning of February, the first SWEP was triggered; it ran for three days. Mr Ward said all the additional provisions planned were available, but he did not have figures on how many people were taken from the streets into local services. "Although we review the whole process regularly, we normally look at tweaking functionality issues rather than monitoring numbers," he said. "I do the monitoring around springtime, after the winter weather has finished." But Mr Ward added that the only problem he and his colleagues had come up against was the number of rough sleepers who refused their help. "The one thing that always surprises the workers on the street, is the amount of people who do not want to go indoors, even in freezing conditions," he said. "That same person could decide to go in a day later or could have been asking a day earlier for help, but when they are bedded down outside, they often do not want to move." Mr Ward said that although this often shocked his sensibilities, it was understandable. "Most of all," he said, "it is about preventing loss of life."