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.


Are you rough sleeping?
If you have an immediate homelessness situation and you have nowhere safe to sleep tonight, call us urgently on 0300 123 2224.

If calling after 5pm, on a weekend or on a bank holiday, call the out of hours service on 0300 1232327.

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.

Accessing services

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.

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 Severe Weather Emergency Provision 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 Severe Weather Emergency Provision for weather warnings, near-freezing temperatures, rain, snow, wind chill, gales or heat.

Last reviewed: April 8, 2024 by Ian

Next review due: October 8, 2024

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