With temperatures predicted to be as low as -2°C in London later this week, the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) has been activated. Typically, SWEP is triggered for a period of three consecutive nights when weather forecasts indicate temperatures of 0°C or lower. It is followed to minimise harm or death to anyone who might be sleeping rough. Emergency accommodation is provided to support someone off the streets immediately. We respond by opening any and all available spaces in our services. This can include void rooms, office space and even meeting rooms.
During December 2022, the Pan-London SWEP was put into effect and lasted for an unprecedented continuous stretch of 12 days. This marked the lengthiest activation since 2017. Throughout this period, over 650 individuals experiencing homelessness were provided emergency accommodations. This figure is five times greater than any other activation period in the preceding winter.
SWEP operates outside usual eligibility and entitlement frameworks that govern access to housing. It is accessible to everyone, including all those who may otherwise be excluded from services; people with restrictions due to immigration status, people who may have previously been excluded or banned from services, and those with no local connection.
Those experiencing rough sleeping are offered temporary accommodation and are enrolled in the ‘In for Good’ policy. Under this initiative, no one will be asked to leave accommodation until a support plan is in place to end their rough sleeping, regardless of an increase in temperature.
Support might include access to move-on accommodation. Identifying routes out of the emergency provision into hostels, private rented, social housing, and specialist accommodation so that people do not have to return to the streets. Individualised support pathways could include healthcare, education, employment, substance use services, benefits advice or immigration advice.
SWEP provisions often provide an opportunity to engage individuals who have been reluctant to accept support in the past, or people who are new to the streets, where a connection with services can avoid their situation getting worse. As well as saving lives, SWEP should support people off the streets for good.
While individuals are encouraged to accept the support that is provided, this is not a condition of accessing the accommodation. Some people may not feel ready to accept support, or the support offer might not be right for them, and this should be respected. The priority at this time is to reduce the risk of immediate harm in severe weather.