Working across the capital this winter, you can’t have missed the rising number of people who are sleeping rough on our streets. Have you ever thought, is there something I can do to help?

I’ve spoken with Dan Olney, Assistant Director of Pan London Street Homelessness and Outreach Services at St Mungo’s recently to find out how the venue community could mitigate homelessness in London.

St Mungo’s is a homelessness charity that supports vulnerable men and women to rebuild their lives. They run a range of innovative services to support people sleeping rough; on any given night, over 2,700 people are housed and supported through St Mungo’s support programmes. With London’s temperature dropping sharply, there are two specific programmes where Venue Managers like you could directly help tens and even hundreds of vulnerable people: SWEP and Pop-up Hubs.

Riemy: What is the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP)?

Dan: SWEP’s primary focus is to save lives of vulnerable rough sleepers during extreme weather. St Mungo’s runs the Pan London SWEP. This is an emergency response to freezing and other extreme weather. When the weather is forecast to be zero degrees or below, SWEP is called across London. Each local authority will have their own response to ensure that any rough sleeper can be offered lifesaving shelter for the night. In local authorities this often means using camp beds in communal areas of hostels or other night shelters. When local authority bed spaces fill up, outreach teams can refer rough sleepers into the St Mungo’s run Pan-London SWEP. The pan-London SWEP is commissioned to provide shelter for up to 80 rough sleepers per night. St Mungo’s has 3 main assessment centres that can be used for SWEP. However if these were full to capacity then we would need to find other space. This has proved to be a bigger challenge year on year.

“Last winter, 38 rough sleepers were brought into the Pan London SWEP. When the weather improved, only 5 of those returned to the streets after SWEP was closed.”

R: How St Mungo’s run SWEP?

D: When SWEP is activated, St Mungo’s will open SWEP. We will communicate to all outreach teams in London to notify them of arrangements and will engage our skilled and experienced staff to work on a 24 hour rota to take and accept referrals into the SWEP shelter. Outreach teams will be out throughout the nights looking for rough sleepers and will be able to bring them into SWEP at any time of the night where our staff will ensure they have somewhere comfortable and secure  to sleep eat and wash until the weather improves. While the primary function of SWEP is about shelter, St Mungo’s use the opportunity to try and make a lasting difference and ensure that those brought in off of the streets do not need to return to rough sleeping. We do this through our experienced Assessment & Reconnection workers who will meet with those brought into SWEP and conduct and in depth assessment of their needs and entitlements. Having done this we will aim to make that person an offer away from the streets. This will include advocating to their home local authority for emergency accommodation or supported accommodation or supporting people to access private rented accommodation. 

R: How does St Mungo’s mitigate and manage risks? 

D: St Mungo’s has extensive experience of operating shelters such as SWEP in a range of environments. We are able to set up in a space to provide bedding and basic provisions such as food and washing facilities. To manage any risks, each rough sleeper brought in to SWEP will be required to sign up to the conditions of stay to ensure that they understand the rules of the project and acceptable behaviour. With all of our SWEP projects, we ensure that adequate staffing is provided 24hrs a day that is proportionate to the number of rough sleepers in the shelter. Staff are experienced in managing challenging behaviour and incident management and will also have access to the St Mungo’s on call.

R: What kind of spaces can be used for SWEP?

D: Any secure space where mattresses or camp beds could be put up overnight and where there is access to toilets and shower facilities. If you have access to such a space and it’s not going to be in use every evening, we’d like to invite you to support the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) by getting in touch with Hire Space. We’ll then arrange for an assessment visit and review all the necessary logistical detail in anticipation for the next SWEP activation.

R: Would you consider a space like our office in Bermondsey for SWEP?

D: Of course! Any secure space would be gratefully received and assessed. 

R: Most London venues have a dynamic event diary and any commitment would require prior planning. Is there another way where venues can help, with more lead time allowed?

D: Absolutely. As part of our ongoing efforts to develop and introduce new approaches and ideas to support more people off the streets, we have successfully ran “pop-up hubs”. The hubs are designed to provide a safe place off of the streets for a few nights in so that a rapid assessment and intervention to tackle and prevent rough sleeping can take place. They are delivered through intensive short bursts of activity in targeted areas, to enable assessment and coordinated follow on action.  

R: How are “pop-up hubs” run and how do they help vulnerable people? 

D: We hosted a pop-up in Eastbourne for three days with the aim of offering people a package of support and assistance. A nominated key worker ensures that agreed outcomes were achieved. Over the three days, we assessed 44 people and supported all of them to access further support. 89% of those individuals were experiencing health related issues and 75% were assessed to have at least one mental health related issue, demonstrating the ability of these short-term support services to engage vulnerable people in need of help. 

R: What kind of space can be used for “pop-up hubs”?

D: A central London location that could be available for 48 – 72 hours to accommodate a pop-up hub. This could include overnight sleeping facilities, but a venue for daytime assessment would also be gratefully received. The venue would be managed in line with our standard approach to mitigate and manage risks.

When your venue is not in use during certain evenings, St Mungo’s operation team can transform your event spaces into a safe, temporary home to London’s rough sleepers. Of course, providing a roof is not the entire solution, but it is an essential first step to relieve the person of the pressure and stress from the many immediate dangers associated with sleeping rough. Once a rough sleeper is on St Mungo’s radar, their chances of leaving the homeless cycle and eventually gaining a permanent home become much higher. Vocational training programmes pipelined to employers and their recruitment demands are just some of the many personalised support projects St Mungo’s offer. 

Can you help? Venues who register their interests in hosting a SWEP shelter or pop-up hub in 2018 will receive a complimentary Hire Space marketing campaign. Any questions and interests about hosting pop-up hubs and accommodating SWEP, please contact Hire Space on 0207 099 2512 or riemy@hirespace.com.

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