Severe weather emergency protocol for rough sleepers
When is the SWEP activated and deactivated?
SWEP is activated during severe weather, detailed below.
SWEP is deactivated when none of the below conditions are met - at this point the entitlement to temporary accommodation will end.
Extreme cold can cause serious health problems and death for those who are exposed overnight or for long periods of time.
Historically, SWEP provision was triggered when the forecast was zero degrees or below for three days. It is now best practice to take a common sense approach, where any forecast approaching zero is considered; the impact of rain, snow and wind chill are taken into account; and the ‘feels like’ temperature is checked, along with conditions underfoot (e.g. ice). There are benefits to opening provision for temperatures that are above freezing but can be just as harmful, and for maintaining this provision over longer periods.
High winds can lead to an increased risk of injury through uprooted trees, falling walls, dislodged pieces of roofing and other debris.
Local authorities should consider the location of local rough sleeping sites and the potential for harm from gale-force winds. This is a particular issue for rural areas where people are, for example, sleeping in tents.
Heavy or sudden prolonged rain can lead to flooding and landslides.
People sleeping under bridges, on river banks or near the sea, streams or canals may be particularly at risk, but there may be less obvious flood
risks, for example drains or gullies. Standing water, puddles and flooding may continue to be a risk after rainfall has stopped.
As well as increased risk of drowning, being stuck in the rain and unable to change out of wet clothes/shoes afterwards can lead to a range of health problems, including trench-foot.
There is also an increased risk of loss or damage to belongings such as identification documents.
People sleeping rough may find it difficult to source drinking water and sun protection, increasing risks around dehydration, sunburn and sunstroke.
Needs are likely be more urgent during daylight hours, so a different approach to SWEP may be appropriate e.g. free water and sunscreen, cool daytime spaces, and links to healthcare.
In addition to the direct risk associated with severe weather, the actions people might take to get out of severe weather can also increase the risk of harm and death.
People might find cover in unsafe places e.g. large lidded bins, which can result in crush injuries or death if the bin is emptied. They might enter buildings or property without permission, including derelict structures, with associated risks around fire safety and building collapse.
People may also increase their substance use as a coping mechanism during bad weather. Attempting to keep safe and dry in bad weather increases the risk of death and injury to people without shelter.