SWEP and rough sleepers

On Saturday lunchtime (6 January) we activated our Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP).

For those unaware, SWEP is a humanitarian response to periods of severe weather conditions, and anyone who is identified as sleeping rough within the Canterbury district, and who agrees to receiving assistance, is eligible to access our SWEP provision when it is activated.

There is no single definition of severe weather and as such we take a flexible approach when considering its implementation.

Between the activation on Saturday and yesterday (Monday 8 January) afternoon, there have been 23 enquiries under SWEP. Out of these, seven accommodation placements were made and 16 people declined offers of accommodation for various reasons.

Now, we realise that in posting these stats, some might think that a 30 per cent success rate is on the low side.

Indeed, we have had a few comments and questions from people who have seen rough sleepers on the streets over the weekend, naturally concerned about their welfare in the inclement weather conditions.

But we always make it clear when posting about SWEP that some people will decline accommodation. This is borne out from the figures above.

You might expect us to come along and just collect people and put them in a house or a room straight after a quick call to us.

But we cannot forcefully intervene to provide an individual with support. Many people refuse help and that is their right.

The reasons people sleep rough are many and complex but we work very hard to support people into accommodation. Sometimes this is quick. Sometimes it takes a bit more time.

Sometimes it takes months or even years to build up trust between an individual and a support team to get to the point where the person accepts and enters accommodation.

We can also reassure you that we will continue to provide support and assistance to those that have refused accommodation. 

The other question that crops up is where we accommodate people.

We work with bed and breakfast and temporary accommodation providers to make sure we are placing the right people in the most appropriate accommodation for their needs.

If necessary and appropriate for the individual concerned, this may be out of our district, but if that is the case, we will continue to support them and work to get them into a secure, long term accommodation placement.

With the weather forecast as it is, this current SWEP activation will continue for at least a few more days.

Our outreach teams will continue their work out on the streets, supporting people wherever they can and encouraging them to take up accommodation.

You can help us with this by letting us know about people you are concerned about, via Streetlink. We would rather hear about the same person 10 times than not at all.

But we do want to be clear that, as outlined above, you should not necessarily expect to see that individual immediately removed and placed into accommodation.

Finally, we want to give a big shout out to our partners at Catching Lives and Porchlight, who, alongside our officers, work incredibly hard to help vulnerable people on our streets.

Thank you for all you do.

Published: 9 January 2024

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