What to do if you see a homeless person sleeping outside in the snow

Posted by
Harvey Day
How to help homeless rough sleepers in the very cold weather

The cold weather is obviously pretty annoying; delayed trains, frozen fingers and the terrifying prospect of boilers sputtering out leaving you shivering in your flat wrapped in seven layers of coats, scarves and fur-lined long johns. Only me? OK then.

But when you don’t have anywhere to live and you find yourself sleeping rough, sub-zero temperatures are much, much more serious.

We’ve reached out to homelessness charities to find out what you can do to help rough sleepers during the cold weather. Some of it’s just regular common sense, but there are also some specific steps you can take to help people in need.

1. Have a chat and offer a hot drink

The easiest thing you can do is simply stop and have a chat. A Crisis spokesperson said on Twitter: “Snow is falling across the country, leaving thousands of rough sleepers exposed to freezing temperatures.

“One of the most important things is simply stopping and talking to someone. Rough sleeping can be an isolating, devastating experience – a shared word could make all the difference.”

A Shelter spokeswoman told me this afternoon: “Many people want to be able to provide immediate help to someone they see on the streets. An offer of a hot drink or sandwich could help you find out what other type of support the person may need.”

2. Call StreetLink

If you are concerned about someone sleeping rough in England or Wales, you can send an alert to the support structure StreetLink, via their website.

The details you provide are sent to the local authority or outreach service for the area where you’ve seen the homeless person, to help them find the individual and connect them to support. If you call StreetLink to report concerns about a homeless person you should provide the following information:

  • A specific location for the rough sleeping site. You can do this by using a map to pinpoint the exact location and then providing a written description of the location.
  • Details of the time that the rough sleeper has been seen at the location.
  • Any information about the rough sleeper that will help find them (gender, approximate age, what the person looks like, what they are wearing).

You’ll receive details of the action the local authority normally takes when they are told someone is sleeping rough in their area and an update on what has happened as a result of your alert within ten working days if you have requested it.

3. Help them find support

A spokeswoman for Shelter added: “A homeless person can get advice and help from Shelter’s free helpline or online support: 0808 800 444 /

“There are also day centres that provide food, showers and warmth during the day. Find information about what practical help is available for homeless people on Shelter’s website. 

“The local council may help someone who’s homeless with emergency accommodation and Shelter’s online homelessness advice gives information on how to apply. The council might also provide emergency help if the temperature drops below zero.

“The cold winter weather is a particular threat for rough sleepers. A winter emergency night shelter could provide a dry place to stay for the night. See Homeless Link’s website for the latest list of London winter shelters:”

4. Call 999

Finally, if you think someone’s life is in danger, needs medical help or is unresponsive, you should call 999 straight away. 

(Image: Unsplash)