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A Guest blog from the Museum of Homelessness

Patchy provision won’t save lives.

The conversation about homelessness and climate is not a new one and the sense of urgency isn’t either. Unfortunately, urgency doesn’t always lead to action, especially when an issue can disappear from people’s minds as soon as the weather returns to normal.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, homelessness was seen as a health emergency. However, there has not been the same momentum or investment when thinking about homelessness and severe weather. With our increasingly unpredictable weather cycles, those with the ability to make decisions around funding for homelessness support, need to keep climate change at the forefront of their minds. It appears that decision makers have not understood the impact of climate change on people experiencing homelessness.

There is abundant evidence for this when you examine the main tool to protect people affected by homelessness – Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP). When our team carried out research for Severe Weather Emergency our 9-month investigation into climate provision in the UK - time and time again I was shocked to review freedom of information responses where councils simply never activated SWEP. In contrast, in some other cases, I received a dossier back with detailed and comprehensive records, with some local authorities choosing not to activate SWEP because they had year-round emergency accommodation. Does the Government legislate to protect marginalised and homeless people from climate? No. Does it provide additional designated SWEP funding? No. The result is a disappointing and uneven distribution of SWEP provision across the UK.

Patchy provision won’t save lives. We now need consistent SWEP provision for different kinds of weather, not just cold weather. Our other long-standing campaign, the Dying Homeless Project, demonstrates that people sadly pass away in larger numbers in the summer. During our research on SWEP, it became clearer that summer SWEP provision was not yet on the agenda for many councils. Just over half of those surveyed activated SWEP in the summer. In addition, not a single surveyed council (over 90), had ever activated SWEP due to heavy rainfall.

This and many other things need to change. The UK Health Security Agency has recently published guidance on adverse weather. We hope this will lead to a real push for better standards in the coming months. This should not only look to improve systems, but address real issues of safety, access, trust in and quality of the SWEP offer for people forced to live outside. This is an important point – we need a shared understanding of what a good offer is for people because right now, people who live outside are consistently saying that the offers don’t feel safe.

Whatever happens, what the guidance won’t do is provide more funding and we need to be realistic about what can change without that. Therefore, the answer is simple, we need to make more funding available and to do that we need to make more noise about homelessness and the climate emergency. There isn’t sufficient length in this blog to write about all the ways that can be done, but paying attention to this in the long-term will be our approach. We hope you will come on the journey with us; we have a short window to put mitigation measures in place before it’s too late.

Read Homeless Link's guidance and case studies on supporting people experiencing homelessness during heatwaves.