Dan Olney, St Mungo’s Assistant Director of Pan London Street Homeless and Outreach Services, tells us about Severe Emergency Weather Protocol (SWEP), the emergency response to prevent homeless people from dying or developing serious health conditions in extreme weather.
Sleeping rough is harmful and dangerous any time of year. Our outreach teams, and others across the country, go out early morning and late at night throughout the year to find people who are sleeping rough and to support them away from the streets.
However, when there’s a “Beast from the East” or Storm Emma, it really can mean life-threatening temperatures for anyone who is street homeless.
The Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) is an emergency response to prevent deaths of people sleeping rough during winter.
SWEP is activated by local authorities across the country when temperatures are forecast to be lower than zero degrees for three nights, or in London for one night.
St Mungo’s supports SWEP actions across London and the south and south west of England where our 17 outreach teams are based, working alongside other organisations and with a range of local authorities in Oxford, Bournemouth, Brighton, Reading, and Bristol for example.
‘An additional safety net’
In London, we are also commissioned by the Greater London Authority to operate the ‘pan London SWEP’ provision. This essentially provides additional capacity emergency beds for people, when local borough provision is full. This acts as an additional safety net, if the temperatures drop for a sustained period – which they have over the last week. This is the longest period of sustained SWEP in seven years.
We’ve not had a winter like this in many years and I’ve been overwhelmed by the support and response from the public, volunteers, partners and St Mungo’s staff. Across London, we currently have around 100 people in emergency shelters who would otherwise have been sleeping out in freezing temperatures. We’ve made around 150 bedspaces available – and yes, welcomed in dogs as well as people as much as possible, and worked in partnership with dogs’ homes and other charities to offer kennelling or other options so that having a dog wasn’t a barrier to the person coming in. We’ve even had a cat in as well!
When people come in, it’s not luxury but it is warm, there are hot drinks, the chance for a wash and a chat with people. We also use the opportunity to talk to people about their situation and see how we could help people to move away from the streets for good, not just while the weather is extreme. The extreme cold has meant some people have been persuaded to come inside and have those conversations when perhaps they were reluctant previously.
We are continuing to run SWEP shelters over this weekend, and outreach workers continue to check and follow up referrals for anyone still out, for whatever reason. And rest assured, our outreach work won’t end when the weather improves. Teams will still be out, night and day, helping people with the first steps to rebuilding their lives.
What can you do to help?
- Refer someone you are concerned about to local support through the StreetLink website or app
- Contact your local homelessness organisation and see what kind of practical help they need.
- Give – either your time, or your donations. For example, in London, the London Homeless Charities Group has set up a coalition of 18 charities, and a No One Needs to Sleep Rough campaign, supported by the Mayor which is coordinating donations.