Homeless Pembrokeshire, January 11: “Not everyone is in the emergency shelter despite the continuing cold weather. 

“We spoke to one rough sleeper today who has trench foot and needs a better sleeping bag and waterproof trousers. They mentioned how wet it had been and their temporary shelter had been awash, this explained why they have trench foot. Lighting a fire had not been enough to keep them warm or dry out their socks and clothing. It really does take something to survive in these conditions, doesn’t it?

“An emergency rough sleeper pack, food supplies, Greggs gift card, camping fuel, and a flask of hot coffee were given to a number of other rough sleepers early this evening. It really felt uncomfortable watching them struggle to pack their rucksacks and walk away into the night, cold and dark.”

Walking away
(Homeless Pembrokeshire)

Homeless Pembrokeshire is a charity operating throughout Pembrokeshire providing humanitarian support to people sleeping rough. Support includes emergency rough sleeper packs, adapted to meet individual needs. Other support includes sign posting to other agencies.

The charity was founded by Amanda Evans after she had learnt of the death of a homeless man she had passed the day before.

“It is important to acknowledge that cold weather is not a defacto thing, it is a sliding scale,” she said. 

“What is tolerable for one person could be uncomfortable or worse for another. With this in mind, usually, when the authorities or organisations refer to cold weather provision they are usually referring to temperature extremes in minus figures. 

“However, anyone who has been out on a blustery winter’s day maybe with some rain in temperatures below 10 degrees will know that it is extremely uncomfortable and sometimes painful. When your clothes are wet and it is already cold with the wind blowing over you the effect of this chill factor can lower the temperature from 5/6 degrees to near freezing. This is often made worse if you have not had a decent meal, and are sedentary, the body needs fuel to combat cold. 

“As we understand it, there is no legal obligation on any local authority, or regional/national government to provide emergency cold weather provision. This does not mean however there is no provision. It does mean that the provision that is made available is inconsistent and often sporadic, varying from region to region with some local authorities choosing not to provide it at all. 

“There is guidance for local authorities for initiating a cold weather protocol which is referred to as SWEP (Severe Weather Emergency Protocol) This also covers other extreme conditions including strong winds and excessive rain.” 

In Pembrokeshire, the local authority does have a SWEP provision. It was first activated on a couple of occasions in winter 2022/2023, then for a couple of nights in November; this year it has been activated twice so far - during freezing temperatures from January 8 to 11 and the stormy weather between January 19 and 21. 

As a frontline organisation, Homeless Pembrokeshire gets notified as soon as the council activates SWEP, so they are able to break the news immediately on their Facebook page. You may be surprised to learn that homeless people have access to Facebook to see these posts. According to Homeless Pembrokeshire, many see their mobile phone more important than food. People need a mobile phone to access benefits, food banks, Citizens Advice, Probation Service and so on. Between 60 and 70 per cent of all direct referrals to the charity come via the internet.

So what does SWEP mean in practice? Amanda continues:

“The provision itself is the opening of a designated warm room/shelter that people sleeping rough can go to. The shelter is part of a local authority tender which was awarded early this year.” 

Pembrokeshire County Council prefers not to make its location public. 

“This is because the provision can only accommodate 15 people and access to the shelter is only via the local authority Gateway service via telephone where an assessment is made as to whether the individual can access the service. 

“There are strict rules with regard to attendance, dogs are not allowed and there is a zero tolerance to alcohol and substance misuse. Anyone smelling of alcohol would be refused entry. 

“While it is commendable that PCC has a SWEP provision it is in our opinion flawed: 

  1. There is only one shelter for the whole of Pembrokeshire, this means that rough sleepers have to make their way from all over the county to this one location. 
  2. When activated, people have to first contact the Gateway system by telephone, undertake a referral process, and then make their way to the county town to collect a travel warrant to the shelter location. 
  3. Lots of street homeless people have dogs
  4. Some street homeless people have issues with alcohol and other addictions so they are excluded.
  5. Street homeless people often have a camp where they store their belongings and are understandably reluctant to leave this behind. 
  6. The SWEP is usually activated in Pembrokeshire as a result of the Met Office issuing severe weather warnings but, as I discussed previously, when you are on the streets living rough the weather does not necessarily have to be extreme to be a serious problem. 
  7. The SWEP provision is usually only activated for a few days and people are then asked to leave the shelter and be back on the streets.  
  8. Due to the restrictions detailed above often the provision has a low attendance, with people seemingly preferring to sit it out despite the risks to their health.”

On January 19, the ITV reported that homeless people in Cardiff said they had “lost count” of the number of people who have died on the streets as temperatures across the country dropped to below freezing.

It prompted Shadow Housing Minister Janet Finch-Saunders MS to declare a ”homelessness crisis” in Wales.

In the light of this then, how then can members of the public can be of most help to homeless people?

“It is always a matter for each individual conscience when confronted with such an emotional circumstance. However, we never advise members of the public to actively engage with anyone whether they are homeless or not, stranger danger is always a thing that people need to be aware of. That said, common human decency and respect for everyone is always a real thing, and people should be mindful of this. 

“In terms of real help, the best thing that anyone can do is to support street homeless people through a registered charity such as Homeless Pembrokeshire.”

Charities like Homeless Pembrokeshire help to give hope to the homeless, like the two young people found shivering. Before the pair hurried off to find shelter from the freezing rain, they were issued with sleeping bags, a blanket, food, a flask of hot coffee, toiletries, new underwear, a hat, gloves, hand warmers, a torch, and a hot water bottle. And you can help, too…

Items for emergency rough sleeper packs can be left at The Ark, Bridge Street, Haverfordwest. Follow Homeless Pembrokeshire on Facebook for updates on the items most needed. And don’t forget, you can also donate warm coats to the free rails at local libraries.

October ’23 in Wales

1,458 homeless people placed in temporary accommodation

915 children in B&Bs

724 homeless people housed, including 244 children

10 rough sleepers in Pembrokeshire

(Latest Welsh Government figures as of January 25, 2024)

Homeless Pembrokeshire:

“We are not sure of the accuracy of 10 rough sleepers in October 2023 for Pembrokeshire, and homelessness can take on many forms. It depends on how this figure was arrived at and without the criteria applied to the count it is a bit meaningless in our view.

“Rough Sleeping or street homelessness is within itself complicated. We know of several individuals who choose not to engage with the authorities and even shy away from some support groups. Others may be street homeless one night and sofa surfing the next and then back on the streets in short order. Some people sleep in vehicles so it is difficult to arrive at any figure with any sense of accuracy.

“Often counts like this are done within a short period of time as a head count on a particular night, but we believe that street homelessness is very fluid and difficult to count whilst some individuals might be obvious others, in our experience, hide away as best they can for safety - often to preserve their own dignity.

“That said, we believe that for some time throughout 2023 and into this year the figures at any given time are in excess of 10.

“If anyone would like to donate towards our emergency rough sleeper packs sleeping bags, two-man tents, sleeping mats, large rucksacks, mess tins, torches, waterproofs, and first aid kits are currently needed.

“Greggs Gifts Cards are great for people to donate, if anyone wishes to donate via our website they can do so here: https://www.paypal.com/donate?hosted_button_id=FUWS6CSJ48ZQU ”