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London Borough of Tower Hamlets (LBTH) is required to provide Severe Weather Emergency Provision (SWEP) during periods of extreme weather. This includes access to emergency accommodation for anyone rough sleeping in the borough when temperatures are forecast to be zero or below, as the threat to life is significant.
The Greater London Authority (GLA) activates and deactivates SWEP in line with cold weather alerts issued by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). SWEP is primarily a lifesaving provision but has also been shown to be an effective intervention in ending someone’s rough sleeping, as many people are able to access more stable accommodation as a move on from SWEP.
Previous Years Provision
During the pandemic, additional funding from central government was utilised to book hotel rooms in commercial providers who were under capacity due to decreased general usage. However, in 2022-23 this was not available as hotel costs had risen considerably.
LBTH holds a contract with Providence Row Charity to provide 10-15 communal bedspaces during SWEP and there are some additional spaces within the hostel pathway. The GLA provides pan-London overflow accommodation once boroughs have reached local capacity – current forecast for this year shows the GLA will not have sufficient capacity to meet all borough’s needs.
Pressures This Year
Across Winter 2022-23, there were 6 SWEP activations for a total of 33 nights, which saw 75 individuals placed. Voids in the Dellow Hostel were used due to underutilised at the time – this hostel has since been decommissioned so is no longer an option.
For Winter 2023-24, concern has increased due to current rough sleeping data showing an increase in numbers due to a variety of factors:
- September 2023 saw 8% increase from Sept 2022 for number of people seen rough sleeping
- October 2023 up 12% on October 2022.
- The street count in September was the highest in several years at 41.
Can you help?
As a result, LBTH is exploring contingency options. The preferred option is a rest centre type provision that can be mobilised quickly and accommodate up to 20 people. Partnership work is taking place between council teams including rough sleeping, facilities public health, and civil emergencies to develop a resilient model. This service is seen as a second-level need, meaning it would not likely be required only in the event of prolonged activations or if the commissioned Dellow Centre model fails.
- The borough is seeking a building such as a hall or church that can be used at short notice to accommodate people rough sleeping.
- Operating hours would be approx. 4pm to 8am each night when access is required
- Electricity sources needed to power heaters if central heating not available
- Sufficient ability to create separate sleeping spaces for men and women
- Minimum two toilets and wash basins
- Ability to keep space well ventilated
- Beds and sleeping bags can be provided by Civil Emergencies.
- Commissioned third sector providers have been approached regarding specialist staff to be mobilised quickly to provide support to people with complex needs.
- Additional voluntary support from partners would be very welcome during activations.
- Public Health colleagues can assess to ensure safety around infectious disease transmission.
- Facilities Management can risk assess buildings if needed.
LBTH thank you for reading so far – If you have a building that could support the borough’s SWEP efforts, or can offer support in other ways, please do make contact. They welcome all offers to work in partnership to protect the welfare of some of our most vulnerable residents.
For further information or to make offers of support, please contact Mike Fill, Rough Sleeping Commissioner via email@example.com.
GLA SWEP guidance and activation procedure
Operating principles for night shelters – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)