London protects rough sleepers during the heatwave

8 September 2023

Temperatures soar in London as a heatwave sweeps across the United Kingdom this week.

Heat alerts have already been issued across the country, and experts are urging Brits to keep an eye on vulnerable people who may need support staying cool.

Rough sleepers are among those most at risk, as they are more likely to face increased exposure to heat and suffer from underlying health conditions.

Rough sleepers more exposed

“This ongoing heatwave could be dangerous for anyone, but for people sleeping rough, there are additional risks,” acknowledges Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London.

Homeless people are particularly vulnerable to high temperatures and have difficulty accessing shelter and protection, such as cold water or sunscreen. This puts them at greater risk of fatal sunburn, dehydration and heat stroke during bad weather.

That’s why London is taking swift action to protect rough sleepers from the merciless impact of this heatwave.

Protecting Londoners

The City Hall has launched an emergency inclement weather response in the capital to help rough sleepers struggling to stay safe amid high temperatures. “We are working with London’s boroughs to prioritise support for some of the most vulnerable Londoners,” says the Mayor.

The Thames capital has activated the pan-London Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP), which is typically activated when temperatures plummet to freezing in the winter. This time, however, it’s to ensure that councils and homelessness charities provide crucial support and emergency accommodation to those sleeping rough in the scorching heat.

“Across the capital, we are taking action to assist those forced to sleep rough in these extremely high temperatures,” explains Mayor Khan, who has made tackling rough sleeping a priority. Since taking office in 2016, he has quadrupled the budget targeted to this cause, and more than 15,000 people have been helped through London commissioned services.

“As ever, London’s councils and charities are working hard to support those sleeping rough in our city, and I thank them for their tireless efforts.”

Keeping it cool

The City Hall has asked charities and local boroughs to enhance local outreach services, including providing water and sunscreen to homeless people, signpost people who are sleeping rough to cool spaces, or provide suitable accommodation for those who are most vulnerable to the effects of heat.

“While most of us are enjoying the fine weather, it’s important to remember it can be dangerous for people who are forced to sleep rough, particularly those with health conditions,” says Bill Tidnam, Chief Executive of Thames Reach, a charity that works to end street homelessness by helping vulnerable and homeless people to find homes, build supportive relationships and lead fulfilling lives.

In heat and coldness

Although it is not the first time that London’s Hot Weather SWEP has been activated, as it happened last year during the heatwave that affected the capital in July 2022, these responses were initially designed for cold waves in winter.

“Thames Reach’s outreach teams are stepping up their service during the very hot weather, just like we do in cold weather,” says Tidnam, “to make sure people have access to accommodation and cool spaces as well as other basics.”

And as climate change fuels extreme weather events, this will only likely get worse. Cities must be prepared to protect the most vulnerable from high temperatures that, in addition, continue to rise.

Prepared for extreme heat

Without going any further, this month of July has been the warmest ever recorded on Earth. Facing increasingly common heat waves, such as Cerberus, which besieged southern Europe this summer, European cities have to rethink how to deal with soaring temperatures.

For example, Athens has appointed a Chief Heat Officer to lower temperatures in the Greek capital.



Latest image by Mark Ramsay, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons


Lucía Garrido Eurocities Writer