In this week’s column, councillor Jason Brock, the leader of Reading Borough Council notes the significantly colder weather and lets the public know about the emergency support available for those sleeping rough as temperatures plummet. Councillor Brock writes:
The weather has turned noticeably colder and while putting the heating on at this time would ordinarily be an automatic choice, the huge rise in energy costs sometimes gives us pause for thought.
But what about those who don’t even have the luxury of making that choice – those who are out on the streets and facing the elements – how will they cope?
Fortunately, Reading Borough Council has a comprehensive programme of assistance in place for periods of extreme weather with our SWEP (Severe Weather Emergency Protocol) response there to protect the most vulnerable from the elements.
This is triggered by temperatures of 0 degrees or below for three consecutive nights, and when it happens, as it did last week, we as a Council provide emergency accommodation for people – single adults or couples with no dependents – that would otherwise be rough sleeping. Our emergency accommodation is in self-contained B&B or hotel rooms, as it has been since COVID-19.
READ MORE: When will UK’s cold snap end?
This humanitarian response is to protect those most in need and prevent deaths on the streets, regardless of whether those in question have a local connection to Reading or restricted eligibility in accessing public funds.
SWEP can also be triggered by other extreme types of weather like snow or, in summer, extreme heat and lasts for at least three nights.
If you know someone who needs help, SWEP accommodation can be reached through us or our charity partner St Mungo’s.
People can access SWEP accommodation via Reading Borough Council’s Homelessness Prevention Service (0118 937 2165 or firstname.lastname@example.org) between 9am and 5pm. Outside of these times, please call Reading’s Emergency Duty Service on 01344 786 543. St. Mungo’s Rough Sleeping Outreach Service can also be reached at 0118 958 5002 or ReadingRSOS@mungos.org
While SWEP is an emergency response for particularly extreme weather conditions, our response to homelessness is far from seasonal – we are working hard to eradicate it throughout the year.
We commission and work closely with our charitable partners, including the St Mungo’s rough sleeping outreach team, the Salvation Army, Reading YMCA, and Launchpad who provide tenancy support and accommodation.
St Mungo’s also provide 24/7 wraparound support for us at our Caversham Road modular homes, which provide safe and longer-term homes for 40 former rough sleepers to help them rebuild their lives. Similarly, our Nova Project provides female-only accommodation for ten people who have formerly slept rough.
The 50 spaces at these two essential Reading Borough Council initiatives are complemented by a further 210 bed spaces we offer across our Homelessness Support Services. These help single people and couples who are sleeping rough or at risk of having to do so.
A successful application for extra grant money has enabled us to broaden our support offer, meaning extra outreach staff on the streets, including at weekends, providing accommodation for ex-offenders and employing a ‘Housing First’ approach. We have confirmed funding for these additional services for the next two and a half years, and we’re working with partners and landlords to make 25 properties available for Housing First clients.
If all other things were equal, I’d be confident that these initiatives would help to sustainably reduce rough sleeping in the borough. Unfortunately, we know that economic circumstances – and especially a broken housing market – are forcing more and more people into crisis across the country.
So, while we’re doing everything that we can to unwaveringly commit to addressing homelessness and rough sleeping, you can do your bit too and help us to help those most in need. If you are concerned about anyone that you think might be sleeping rough, call Street Link on 0300 500 0914 or go to www.streetlink.org. If you, or someone you know, is at risk of rough sleeping or ending up ‘sofa surfing’, please let our Homelessness Prevention Team know by contacting our Housing Advice Service – call 01189 372165 or email email@example.com.