The heartbreaking effects the snow is having on Newcastle’s rough sleepers

Snow has left people on Newcastle’s streets facing bitterly cold and unhealthy conditions as they struggle to stay warm and dry .

For the North East’s homeless population, today’s extreme weather could mean serious issues.

Kevin Waggott, of the Changing Lives city outreach programme, says the charity’s drop in centre has been even busier than usual as desperate people look for somewhere to dry their clothes and get warm.

He said: “The cold and wet are really really having an impact on the quality of life of people who often have quite a low quality of life to begin with.

“At our drop-in centre people can dry their clothes, which is really important in this weather – we had one of our regulars, an older man, come in and his clothes and both his sleeping bags were soaked through. If he hadn’t been able to dry them that would have just got worse and worse.

“Being cold and wet all the time has a big long-term impact on physical health, but also on people’s mental health – it is really depressing to be constantly wet and cold.”

The falling snow can also put vulnerable people at risk by making them seek shelter in places they might otherwise avoid – returning to abusive relationships, accepting a place on a floor or sofa from someone they don’t know well, or even being driven to offer sex in exchange for somewhere to stay.

And if they don’t find somewhere to stay, on top of the cold, wet conditions, rough sleepers often face horrendous abuse from members of the public.

This can mean people are forced to choose between a dry spot, such as an underpass, which is in public view, risking attacks, and somewhere more secluded but out in the open.

Kevin said: “People we come across are often at high risk from members of the public – they will kick them or throw a punch while they’re sleeping, we see a lot of people who are spat at, or there will be verbal abuse.”

So if you see someone sleeping in the city on a snowy night, what can you do to help?

Kevin said: “One of the best things people can do is be aware of the services on offer, so if people are sleeping rough they know what help they can be getting.

“We run our drop-in centre, on City Road, in the week, and you can contact streetlink [0191 278 3899 or] if you see someone sleeping rough, and that’s passed on through the council so we can go out and help.

“There are also lots of places in the city, like the People’s Kitchen, offering food.

“We don’t as an organisation advise that people give money, but if you want to buy someone a cup of tea or a meal then of course you can.”

So what do you think?

Tell us in the comments.

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