Campaigners fear for rough sleepers’ welfare in wintry weather

Housing campaigners fear that rough sleepers are not aware when emergency shelters are open this winter.

In previous years Brighton and Hove City Council sent out alerts encouraging community groups to direct rough sleepers to shelters when it triggered the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP).

But David Thomas, from the Brighton and Hove Housing Coalition, told a virtual meeting of the full council yesterday (Thursday 17 December) that about 30 people were still on the streets and would not know when they could come in.

The protocol is triggered when there is a severe weather warning or the temperature drops to what “feels like” freezing level, leading to the opening of the SWEP night shelter.

Mr Thomas said that council was no longer supporting those rough sleepers still on the streets and people with no recourse to public funds – that is, those who did not have a right to remain in Britain.

Mr Thomas said: “Some rough sleeper do not want to engage with any public authority but they know they can go to SWEP, give a false name or none and get a night’s sleep in bad weather without having to answer questions.

“The council’s criteria for opening SWEP are generous but that does not matter when people who need shelter don’t know about it.”

He told councillors that last year when SWEP opened it was announced on bus shelters and social media outlets as well as through the community.

Mr Thomas said that this year it was “secret SWEP” and relied on outreach workers from the council’s contractor, St Mungo’s, seeking out those still on the streets.

He said: “These workers, amazing people though they are, are not Father Christmas. They cannot be everywhere and know everyone.

“Our members know from their own experience that this is not reaching everyone, and it can’t reach those who won’t engage with services and won’t speak to St Mungo’s.

“They won’t know when SWEP is open and neither do we know so we can’t tell them.”

Green councillor David Gibson said: “I would like to stress the commitment to enacting ‘everyone in’ as far as is possible within the constraints of the law.

“It is something we are committed to in our joint Labour and Green goal in terms of ending the need for rough sleeping.

“I would be concerned if there were any examples of rough sleepers who have not been offered accommodation.”

If anyone has concerns about a someone who is rough sleeping, they can call the council’s Streetlink team on 0300 500 0914.

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