The seasonal challenges of being homeless


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We think of homelessness more during winter. It’s always in the news around that time, the weather is cold and it’s often snowing. But, living on the streets is equally as dangerous during spring and summer.

Come rain or shine, you’re open to the elements when you’re sleeping on the streets. We want you to know more about the seasonal challenges of being homeless and raise awareness of the dangers homeless people face in all seasons. And, we’re going to tell you how you can help those on the streets in a practical way.

Homelessness in summer.

When we think of summer, we imagine sunshine and warm weather. It’s a happy time for most of us. There’s a common misconception that the introduction of warmer weather makes living on the streets “easier”.  But this isn’t the case.

In hot weather and heatwaves, rough sleepers, who spend hours in the sun, are at risk of sunstroke and heat exhaustion. Many homeless people have  underlying illnesses and mental health conditions that worsen in the heat.

On the streets, with no easy access to cool drinking water, many homeless people experience dehydration. For those with drug or alcohol dependencies, dehydration is especially dangerous.

Sleeping in the day is often safer than at night. But in summer, they’re trying to sleep, unsheltered, in very hot weather. The alternative is to sit or walk in the sun. Either option isn’t tempting. With no storage space, many carry heavy bags, or wear multiple layers of clothing to avoid carrying it around bags that can be stolen.

The winter months.

With the arrival of autumn and winter, temperatures plummet. This poses serious health risks to people sleeping rough. Hypothermia occurs when your body’s temperature drops below 35 degrees Celsius. Left untreated, hypothermia is life threatening. Pre-existing medical conditions, such as respiratory diseases, worsen in cold weather.

Winter isn’t only dangerous for those sleeping rough. Homeless people in vulnerable housing, such as squats, sofa surfing or in sex for rent situations, don’t always have easy access to heating and electricity. Jim* was working at a car wash last year during the winter months. His employer gave him a bed in exchange for his work. With no recourse to public funds, and no right to housing support, he had few alternative options. Plunging his hands into cold water day after day, with no protection, led to frostbite.

What support is available?

The government advises all councils to have a severe weather protocol, which aims to provides emergency accommodation for all homeless people during extreme weather. However, the government guidance is vague, and each local council is free to decide on their interpretation of “severe weather”.

The government guidance focuses on cold weather, advising the severe weather protocol to be enacted if the weather forecast is set to be below zero for three days. We need councils to enact SWEP in a flexible way, taking into account all extreme weather, including hot weather and thunderstorms. It needs to be based on empathy for those sleeping rough. 

What you can do.

To support someone off the streets requires applying for benefits, housing assessments, obtaining ID, and accessing specialist support, and that’s just the start. It’s why we have full time workers supporting people who are homeless – it’s not simple. And there’s only so much you can do. We say this a lot, but talking to people who often feel invisible is genuinely one of the best things you can do. We also recommend the following actions.

Alert local support services

The number one priority is to let specialist support services know about someone you see sleeping rough. Simply use StreetLink to report someone sleeping rough. It’s vital you give as an exact a location as possible – this makes it easier for outreach teams to quickly locate someone.

If you see someone sleeping rough in Leeds, Bradford or Kirklees you can contact us directly. If possible, check the person is happy for you to make contact on their behalf.

Offer Items

You could offer items to help the homeless in challenging weather. Cold drinks and sun cream are always handy in summer, whilst hot drinks and handwarmers are appreciated in winter.


Donating to homeless charities that provide specialist support is an enormous help in the fight to end homelessness. To help change the life of someone who is homeless in West Yorkshire, you can donate to support our work.

Each each season brings its own challenges for those who are homeless. Whether it’s cold spells or heatwaves, each season is a serious risk for people on the streets. That’s the fight to end homelessness is vital.

You can help us provide emotional and practical support to the homeless in West Yorkshire. Change the life of someone experiencing homelessness by pledging to walk with Simon this August. Pledge to walk 26 miles to raise vital funds for those on the streets.


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