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A cold night on the streets of Yorkshire

In Yorkshire, The Salvation Army runs a variety of services for people experiencing homelessness, including a centre where people can access meals, laundry services and showers, as well as housing advice, training and referrals to emergency accommodation. The team there also conducts late night patrols to help people sleeping rough. This winter, amid freezing temperatures, The Salvation Army’s communications officer, Claire Anderson, joined the patrol’s night-time outreach team to experience its work first-hand.

Arriving at a floodlit retail strip, despite the multiple layers I’ve piled on, the intense cold chills me instantly. I’m with our street outreach team in Yorkshire to find people facing a night sleeping rough in below-zero temperatures and encouraging them to take up emergency overnight accommodation in the city.

Andrea and Spencer are leading tonight’s outreach, which happens twice weekly. We’ve packed the van with lunches and new sleeping bags and, as we head out, Andrea spots a familiar face.

Rob is sat on the icy pavement by a drive-through. Usually, he moves the outreach workers on quickly so people aren’t dissuaded from offering him money. Tonight, the bitter chill has changed his mind and he asks for help.

Rob’s walking stick is on the ground next to him and he’s uncomfortable; the cold has aggravated his mobility issues and he wants to be warm. Andrea explains that he can access a warm bed for the night as the sub-zero emergency protocol is in operation.

It’s only towards the end of the phone referral that Rob decides not to go. He wants to shower before sharing a room with other people, conscious that he smells unpleasantly due to his severely ulcerated legs and having not been able to wash for some time. He doesn’t want to get into a clean bed feeling dirty. Instead we offer an extra sleeping bag and a food parcel, and a reminder to drop in at the day shelter. If we can’t encourage him into a warm environment then the team will make sure he makes it through the night.

Rob will not be the only person to turn down a safe, warm bed that evening. We meet eight others by the railway, near food outlets on a busy street and in hidden doorways off the main roads. The stories vary. Some feel safer in their rough-sleeping community, others have settled down for the evening but all accept food or a sleeping bag. Most are known to the team and all are encouraged to visit the day shelter.”

Across the UK and Republic of Ireland, The Salvation Army supports people who experience homelessness in a variety of ways. The church and charity offers everything from temporary accommodation and emergency night shelters to innovative and person-centred support services that tackle the root causes of homelessness – always reminding people that they are valued as individuals, and that someone is there to listen, care and provide a place of safety.