A homeless charity has condemned Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) for not activating its emergency protocol for rough sleepers despite a Met Office weather warning during Storm Eleanor.
Chester ShareShop in Northgate Street has today (Wednesday, January 3) closed to the public so it can accommodate homeless people during the windy conditions because of concerns around flying debris.
CWaC’s interpretation of national guidance is that emergency shelter should be offered during a ‘Red’ Met Office warning, whereas the alert in place for the North West was the less severe ‘Yellow’ warning.
ShareShop co-founder and trustee Adam Dandy said in a statement: “We would like to be able to tell you that SWEP (Severe Weather Emergency Protocol) was activated last night in Cheshire West and Chester, after all the Met Office had forecast earlier in the afternoon: ‘Flying debris could lead to injuries or danger to life whilst some damage to buildings is likely’. With gales of 80mph forecast.
“We’d also like to tell you that as a result, service providers to the homeless spent the past few hours before Storm Eleanor hit Cheshire West and Chester bringing people, even those without a local connection, who are homeless, off the streets but we can’t. Because SWEP was not activated!
“To say that we at Share are appalled by this decision would be an understatement.
“As SWEP has not been activated, the ShareShop will remain closed to the public today whilst we use the shop to get people who had to endure last night outside, out of the severe weather as early as possible this morning, fed and warmed up with hot soup and new warm clothes. Most importantly giving them shelter from the severe wind and rain.
“We will be asking some serious questions why ‘Severe Weather Emergency Protocol’ was not activated last night, to those responsible. The ShareShop will reopen to the public tomorrow (Thursday). Thank you for your understanding and support.”
The SWEP policy is mainly designed to offer shelter to any homeless person during freezing conditions but is also triggered by a ‘Red’ Met Office weather warning when ‘widespread damage, travel and power disruption, and risk to life are likely’. Today’s weather warning is a ‘yellow’ weather warning so lower down the scale.
There is also concern that homeless people deemed to have ‘no local connection’ can only access shelter during severe weather and find it difficult to access statutory services.
Mr Dandy, who recently took part in a sponsored sleep-out to raise funds for homeless charity Chester Aid to the Homeless (CATH), says there are often good reasons people do not wish to return to where the authorities say they should go.
The Chronicle has asked CWaC for a comment. However, Sarah McGrady, service manager at homeless hostel Richmond Court in Boughton , which is run by CWaC’s homeless service provider Foundation Enterprises NW, said on social media: “16 people were accommodated last night with FENW.”