A homeless man from Aylesbury has hit out at Aylesbury Vale District Council as three homeless men were forced to sleep 'top and tail' on the floor in a tiny corridor, locked in and with no washroom facilities.
There are currently no legal protections for people sleeping rough in England during severe weather – the provision of shelter is not a statutory duty, even when conditions are life threatening.
However, there is a humanitarian obligation on local authorities to do all they can to prevent deaths on the streets, and for their partners and the public to support these efforts.
When the mercury drops below a certain point - emergency provision kicks in. This is called SWEP [Severe Weather Emergency Protocol]
This means the most vulnerable are not in danger of death, or severe health issues once it gets dangerously cold.
An Aylesbury homeless man, who did not wish to be named for fear of reprisals from the council, has been left disconsolate at Aylesbury Vale District Council's SWEP provision.
He said: "More and more homeless people I know are being turned away from using SWEP.
"On the 23 of January when it got down to -3c they squeezed all three of us into a tiny room, It was nothing short of an abomination.
"It was really cold on Tuesday night, and they shoved us on the floor in a tiny room the size of a ford transit van.
"They rushed us through police checks and then just put us in this tiny room. I know I should be grateful the protection from the elements, which I am, but the conditions were just awful.
"As you can imagine with four men who had been living on the street, it smelled horrendous and this was made twice as bad by not being offered any washroom facilities.
"People have stopped showing up because they keep referring people to High Wycombe - but we're homeless! We have no means of travel.
"It just completely robs you of any dignity as a human being."
The incident occurred at Bearbrook Housing, formally known as Stonham in Aylesbury. Aylesbury District Council refers people to this housing.
Once it hits freezing, nobody is turned away.
When temperatures are not below freezing, shelters effectively operate on a first-come-first served basis and people must be referred in by the council.
Hostels, meanwhile, are usually only available to people owed a ‘duty’ by the council - in other words, people who can show they are from the local area, are ‘unintentionally’ homeless and are particularly vulnerable.
Earlier last year, Aylesbury Vale District Council was successful in securing almost a quarter of a million pounds of funding from central government to provide immediate support for rough sleepers in our area.
Housing Secretary Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP at the time announced £30 million of funding for immediate support for rough sleepers for 83 local authority areas, including £223,789 for Aylesbury Vale.
Cllr Mark Winn, Cabinet Member for Communities, said:
“SWEP provision is not in itself a statutory requirement, however, AVDC aspire to find a suitable local placement during these times for those with no place to stay.
"We have a range of SWEP provisions, ranging from B&B accommodation to shared spaces in existing local housing establishments.
"Outside of SWEP activation periods, we continue to work in Aylesbury, and countywide, on a number of initiatives to end rough sleeping in partnership with the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government, local charities and specialist mental health and drug and alcohol services.
"To date we have secured accommodation for 27 clients in Aylesbury Vale and have also halved our rough sleeper count since 2017. The number of rough sleepers in Aylesbury Vale is now in single figures (overnight count combined with intelligence from Homeless Charities, TVP and other agencies).”