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No one should have to sleep rough at any time of the year. But it becomes especially dangerous during periods of cold weather, putting people at risk of hypothermia and, in some cases, death.  

The most effective way of helping people sleeping rough to leave the streets for good is connecting them to local support services who can provide the holistic, long-term care people need. Outreach teams rely on StreetLink alerts from members of the public to help them target their resources. But a new survey, commissioned by us at Homeless Link, found that two thirds of UK adults don’t feel confident in knowing how to help someone sleeping rough.  

The survey asked a representative sample of 2,000 adults questions about how they would react if they saw someone sleeping rough and what might change their behaviour. The results reveal that many are unsure of the best action to take, with 71% of women and 56% of men not confident in knowing the best way to help someone. Confidence is highest among people aged 18-34 and lowest among those who are 55 or older. 

The survey found that this lack of confidence often translates into inaction. Even if they were concerned about someone sleeping rough, people’s most likely response would be to do nothing, with a third of adults saying they wouldn’t do anything to help. Just under a quarter said they would contact an organisation like a local authority, local charity or outreach service to help, while 16% said they would give the person food and 7% said they would give them money. 

The survey also found that the biggest barrier preventing people from helping someone sleeping rough is not knowing what to do, with nearly a third of people citing this. Just over a quarter of adults wouldn’t feel safe, while a quarter would be worried about making the situation worse and a fifth wouldn’t feel like their help would make any long-term difference.  

However, just one in ten adults said they don’t think it’s the responsibility of members of the public to help people sleeping rough, while three in five adults would be more likely to help someone sleeping rough if they knew the best way to connect them to long-term support and a similar proportion would be more likely to help someone sleeping rough during periods of extreme cold weather. 

Therefore, what is clear from these results is members of the public firmly believe they have a role to play in connecting people sleeping rough to support, but a lack of confidence in the best way to approach the issue often prevents people from taking action. 

The survey found that only one in five adults have heard of StreetLink, while only 6% of adults have used the service before. Consequently, spreading the word about StreetLink to the 80% of adults who have never heard of it will be critical in making sure no one has to sleep rough for a prolonged period over the next few months.  

At Homeless Link we are working hard to raise StreetLink’s profile. We’ve done media interviews and comments, released guidance on social media and regularly work alongside local authorities to spread awareness in their local area.  

But we also need your help. If you’re talking to family or friends, ask them if they’ve got the app downloaded or send them the link to the website. Let them know that StreetLink enables them to take positive action when they see someone sleeping rough, that alerts only take a couple of minutes to send and could be the first step towards ending that person’s homelessness for good.  

The pandemic has been extremely tough, but time and time again we have seen the power of communities coming together to support our most vulnerable. As the cold weather sets in, it’s time to harness this spirit again to try to make sure no has to sleep rough.