What is rough sleeping
Rough sleeping is the most visible form of homelessness. It is typically associated with sleeping outside, but also refers to sleeping in a place not designed for living such as an empty building or a car.
Rough sleeping is defined as “People sleeping, about to bed down (sitting on or in, or standing next to, their bedding) or actually bedded down, in the open air (such as on the streets, in tents, doorways, parks, bus shelters or encampments) and people sleeping in buildings or other places not designed for habitation”.
What the impact of rough sleeping is for the individual
Rough sleeping is a dangerous and isolating experience. Prolonged periods of rough sleeping have a significant impact on an individual’s wellbeing. The longer an individual experiences rough sleeping, the more likely they are to develop additional mental and physical health needs, substance misuse issues and have contact with the criminal justice system (collectively known as complex needs). People experiencing rough sleeping are more likely to be victims of crime and almost 17 times more likely to have been victims of violence in the past year (compared to the general public). Women are particularly vulnerable – nearly 1 in 4 have been sexually assaulted whilst rough sleeping. People with complex needs require an enhanced level of support in order to rebuild their lives and move away from rough sleeping.
Many people who experience rough sleeping struggle to access the support services they need. The reasons for this are varied. It could be that the individual is anxious after having negative experiences from engaging with support services, they may feel ashamed to reach out for help, there may be a lack of support services in their area or long waiting lists can be a deterrent.
There is a particular barrier for people who have both a mental health need and a substance misuse need, as they can often be refused help by both services until they have addressed either issue.
Across Somerset Council, we have dedicated rough sleeping teams who can help people experiencing rough sleeping to navigate support available.
We are committed to working closely with our partners and voluntary sector organisations to ensure support services remain accessible and collaboratively look for solutions to any barriers.
How you can help
You can use StreetLink to alert local agencies about someone who is rough sleeping who in turn will try to help the person access support and accommodation. You can send StreetLink an alert about someone rough sleeping via:
- Website: www.streetlink.org.uk
- Mobile app: ‘StreetLink’ from Apple iTunes or Google Play store
What will happen after I send an alert to StreetLink
Our street outreach teams will attempt to verify the individual as soon as possible, this is usually within 48 hours of receiving the notification. Outreach is conducted late at night or in the early hours of the morning to maximise the chances of locating people believed to be rough sleeping.
Our outreach teams are highly skilled and have many years of experience in positively engaging and supporting customers with complex needs. They are able to undertake thorough needs assessments to identify any support needs. All support offered is bespoke to the individual.
For this reason, you may not see an immediate change in the person’s circumstances. It can take many interactions to build trust and be able to complete our assessments.
In addition, everyone the council works with is assessed to determine whether the council owes that person a homeless duty and to offer support and advice. In some cases, this may be to return to an area of the country where they are owed housing duties or may have access to accommodation.
The outreach team must provide feedback to StreetLink on the outcome of the alert within 14 working days. This is shared with the original referrer if requested.
What support from the outreach teams looks like
Support is tailored to the individual but is based on three main areas:
- Prevention – where possible we aim to prevent rough sleeping. This could be negotiation with landlords or family if someone is at risk of eviction or looking to see if the individual is not claiming a benefit they may be entitled to. We work closely with our partners within hospitals and prisons to ensure all individuals leaving their care are assessed in line with homeless legislation
- Intervention – where it’s not possible to prevent rough sleeping, our team of outreach officers will look to quickly identify those rough sleeping and offer support. This could be referrals to other agencies such as mental health services. We will also look at their immediate and future accommodation needs.
- Recovery – it takes time to recover from rough sleeping and its detrimental effects. Moving on to your own accommodation is not always a smooth and happy transition, especially for those who have slept rough for a long period of time (we call this entrenched rough sleeping). We support the person to navigate their tenancy obligations and build resilience in their everyday lives so a return to the street is no longer an option.
Below are some examples of how our teams support within Somerset:
- Accessing Primary care services – registering with a GP or dentist
- Tailored advice about current and future housing options
- Referrals to substance misuse services, mental health services or adult social care
- Obtaining identification and applying for welfare benefits to maximise income
- Living skills such as cooking, tenancy obligations and budgeting
- Exploring further education, volunteering within the community or getting ready for paid employment
- Referring to debt advice services
- Building positive social networks and promoting meaningful use of time
- Referral for counselling services
How to know if someone begging is rough sleeping
It is important to note that not all people who engage in begging are rough sleeping. Many do have accommodation available to them. For this reason, we strongly advise that cash is not handed to people begging but instead you donate to local homeless charities where you can be assured your generosity is helping individuals experiencing rough sleeping. There are many national studies that show giving money to individuals begging can have adverse effects, particularly if the person has substance addictions, and can actually hinder their recovery.
Support before enforcement
As a council we are committed to supporting before taking enforcement action. We will always look to engage with people rough sleeping and offer support to move away from the streets and into secure accommodation. From time to time we do get encampments, which is where more than one individual sets up camp. If this is on council owned land and there is nuisance being caused, we will apply a public interest test and can take enforcement action to move people away from the place they are staying.
Severe Weather Emergency Provision (SWEP)
For those verified as rough sleeping during periods of severe weather, the council will seek to provide emergency accommodation to prevent further harm or death due to severe weather conditions.
Targeted interventions during periods of severe weather will contribute to the council’s overall aim of ending rough sleeping, by removing barriers to engagement and help individuals rough sleeping to access accommodation and support.
Historically, the minimum SWEP response used by many local authorities was a forecast of zero degrees, or below zero, for three consecutive nights. Somerset Council will meet this minimum standard but will implement a common-sense approach and consider triggering SWEP for weather warnings, near-freezing temperatures, rain, snow, wind chill, gales or heat.