Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Severe weather provision

May 23 2009
We look at cold weather provision for London‘s rough sleepers Rough sleepers in London congregated at emergency shelters as freezing temperatures forced homelessness charities to offer their longest severe weather provision during the coldest winter for years. A late-December forecast of three consecutive nights of a minimum temperature of zero degrees Celsius or lower by the Met Office triggered the launch of the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP). This is a special provision backed by the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) aiming to protect rough sleepers, including those without recourse to public funds, such as A10 nationals. Outreach teams patrolled the streets to invite vulnerable people into the shelters. The CLG guidelines encourage a much more flexible approach to referral than usual, but The Pavement has been approached by a number of Eastern European rough sleepers in Victoria, who claimed that outreach workers of The Passage, the local homelessness charity, were ignoring them and not offering them accommodation despite the plummeting temperatures. Mick Clarke, chief executive of The Passage, strongly denied the accusations. "I absolutely, fundamentally disagree with what has been suggested," he said. "SWEP provision is targeted at the most vulnerable, wherever they are from, because it is fundamentally about not wanting people to die; it is about getting people off the streets. "What I think is very interesting - and which makes the point that that allegation is untrue - is that when you look at the individuals who came in during that period, the majority were from A8 or A2 [A10] countries... It's just nonsense." Mr Clarke added The Passage had campaigned on behalf of Eastern Europeans and had, in partnership with two other charities, set up a hostel for migrants in Euston without receiving any funding. Commenting on the general implementation of the severe weather provision, Alastair Murray, regions coordinator for Housing Justice, agreed that "verified rough sleepers", people included in the Combined Homelessness And Information Network (CHAIN) as well as older or vulnerable people were being referred into the shelters regardless of their origin. But he warned the system could not cope with younger, fitter EU nationals and with those who are older and more vulnerable but do not want to go into the severe weather provision. He said: "We would like to see basic emergency shelter for everyone, regardless of their status or individual circumstances. At this time of year, it is about saving lives; getting people off the street, finding out what their needs and circumstances are, and then putting the appropriate help together. "The system, as it is at present, would be greatly improved by easily accessible, free emergency accommodation, with a minimum of paperwork." The Passage operated its emergency provision for a record length of time, from December 27 until January 11 accommodating up to 40 people a night. St Mungo's transformed a former care home in Margery Street, Islington, into an emergency shelter, hosting, on average, 40 people a night from December 30 until January 13, the longest time in the last three winters that the provision has been running. Rough sleepers were offered hot meals and showers, a bed for the night and clean clothes. Luton Sinfield, group manager for St Mungo's outreach services, said: "When the temperature drops to those levels, there is a real danger that people will lose their lives. A capital city is a real magnet for those on the margins. "We tried to be as flexible as we reasonably could and take everybody safely and quickly. We had a real mixture of people in the shelter, people from different countries, people with and without entitlements. "We didn't turn anybody away on the basis of their entitlements. But during a severe weather emergency provision, it's got to be as safe as it possibly can be for everybody. Therefore, there needs to be a degree of information about people because we need to make it safe." The Salvation Army Westminster centre at Rochester Row operated its severe weather night shelter from January 5rd to January 10th, hosting up to 24 people a night, and collaborated successfully with local partners such as The Passage to find accommodation for the extra people seeking protection from the sub-zero temperatures. At the time of the writing, the Met Office forecast for the remainder of the winter said that UK mean temperatures in February were likely to be better than January's and nearer average levels. Should the temperatures dive again, the severe weather shelters will reopen.