Graphic: How emergency measures can prevent deaths of Norwich homeless in winter

A rough sleeper. Photo credit should read: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

A rough sleeper. Photo credit should read: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire - Credit: PA

When snow starts to fall, being homeless could easily end in tragedy. But city groups are working together to prevent deaths, reports Sam Russell.

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The fight to protect homeless people is at its most intense this month.

Simply put, when the weather becomes bitter, people sleeping on the streets of Norwich are more likely to die or become seriously ill.

As we reported earlier this week, the number of homeless people in Norfolk has soared from 477 in 2012-13 to 574 in 2013-14.

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And today the Evening News examines what protection there is as temperatures plummet, as part of our series of articles to highlight the problem of homelessness in our region.

There are a wealth of charities and groups working help homeless people in Norwich.

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They join forces each winter, since emergency tactics were drawn up four years ago.

A special strategy sees extra camp beds and mattresses or chairs set up in hostels around the city, making use of spaces such as kitchen areas and spare rooms, so no-one has to sleep on the streets.

It is activated if temperatures drop below 0C for three consecutive nights.

The plans, called the Severe Weather and Emergency Provisions (SWEP), are led by the city council.

Bert Bremner, cabinet member for housing, explained: 'We don't want to see people sleeping on the streets at any time of year, especially not at Christmas, and we are working with agencies across the city to do everything we can to tackle the problem.

'SWEP has been highly effective at ensuring people stay safe in the cold weather, and provides extra opportunities for entrenched rough sleepers to engage with services.'

Ermir Prendi, single homeless and rough sleeper coordinator at the city council, explained that workers from the outreach team would tell different hostels how many homeless people needed a place to sleep.

He said that sometimes rough sleepers would refuse to accept accommodation despite freezing conditions, and that sometimes this was linked to substance abuse.

'If someone continues to refuse help in these circumstances, and there is a serious risk to their own health, there will be grounds to trigger referrals to other services, such as for mental health assessments or mental capacity assessments,' he said.

Mr Prendi checks the weather forecast on a daily basis to see whether emergency procedures should be triggered.

Norwich City Council has recently secured a £250,000 government grant from the Help for Single Homeless Fund, together with neighbouring authorities.

Cash will see Great Yarmouth, Norwich and King's Lynn councils working together, and compiling a database of every homeless person in the region.

They will also improve services, aiming to provide a greater level of intensive one-on-one support to help vulnerable people settle into a new home.

Homelessness is a complex problem, and Mr Bremner said he appreciated many people had concerns.

'We know that many people want to help rough sleepers but don't know the best way to do this,' he said.

He added that if you see someone sleeping rough, the best thing to do is visit or call StreetLink on 0300 500 0914 to ensure they receive support.

Alternatively, issues in Norwich can be flagged, with immediate help available, by emailing or calling 01603 212950.

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