Rough sleepers are going hungry after being driven miles from Swindon by taxi during periods of freezing cold weather.

Homeless people from the town have told the Adver they are being failed by Swindon Borough Council, which activates its Severe Weather Emergency Protocol when the temperature is predicted to drop below zero for three days.

A bed at a hotel or B&B is then offered to those sleeping on the streets of the town – albeit away from a known network of volunteers and homeless groups which together provide free food and other essentials in Swindon every day of the week.

'Bobby' took up the offer of accommodation under SWEP for five days in December. He was sent 18 miles away by taxi to Leigh Delamere services near Chippenham.

He said: “You’ve got this nice place to stay but you’ve got to be able to be like some sort of Buddhist monk to survive.

“You get five days away but the council doesn’t give you anything. No money for food or drink.”

'Joey' has been living on the streets with his partner 'Sarah' for three months. The couple have been accommodated twice under SWEP – first at The Angel in Royal Wootton Bassett and also for five nights in a hotel in Devizes in December.

“We weren’t given any money by the council,” said Joey. “I went hungry so 'Sarah' could have something.

“There was a £1.50 kebab place round the corner of the hotel I went to. So I got two meals a day from there. But it’s not sufficient, food,” said Joey.

The construction worker became homeless after being kicked out by his ex-girlfriend.

“We heard some people were given a £15 voucher for food. But for us, we were given nothing,” he added.

'Bobby' had to wait until the £25 his aunt gives him every week dropped into his bank account before he could get a single meal.

“I was really starving by then,” he said.

As well as cold conditions, the protocol can be triggered at the council's discretion during other periods of bad weather – such as high winds or heavy rain.

The Adver has been told of instances where people were given canned food without the means to open it.

Bobby said: “The theory is the council don’t want us to die in the street, so you get swept off your feet to a hotel. But you’ve got no money so you’ll die of starvation anyway.”

On previous occasions he has been taken under SWEP to services 25 miles away at Chieveley near Reading, as well as to Membury services for three nights.

The Adver has been told of people being accommodated 40 miles away in Salisbury.

Being so far from Swindon means rough sleepers have no means of getting back to access their medication.

“I was so poorly. I struggled massively without my methadone,” said Sarah, who is currently taking the opioid substitute for her addiction to heroin.

“I was literally dripping in sweat and awake at 5am each day. It was awful,” said the mum.

Sarah became homeless after running away from her previous partner, who used to beat her up.

Another lady the Adver spoke to said she wouldn’t take up the offer of accommodation under SWEP no matter the temperature or weather conditions because she wouldn’t be able to access her methadone.

“I just don’t get it,” said Sarah.

“The council were paying £50 a night for a hotel for five nights. Plus £35 or whatever for a taxi to get us there and then back. But they won’t help us with a deposit for a place.”

Joey and Sarah currently live together in a tent.

Sarah added: “That must have been over half what we would need for a deposit, and just for five nights.

“If we could get a place, he’d be traight back to work and then we’d be off the streets and fine.

"It doesn’t make any sense,” she added.

*All names have been changed to protect the speaker’s identity.

Council 'proud' of SWEP offering

When SWEP is activated the council’s Rough Sleeper Navigators and other outreach agencies make contact with homeless people, referring them to the council’s Housing Options Team who arrange accommodation and transport.

A Swindon Borough Council spokesman said: “We are extremely proud of the services we offer under the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) and can attest to the positive impact they have on rough sleepers in Swindon.

“Unlike other local authorities, we trigger the SWEP on the ‘feels like’ temperature rather than the actual temperature, which means that people who need our help are more likely to receive it than in areas where the authority uses the actual temperature.

“We always seek to keep people in Swindon but, unfortunately, some rough sleepers are not allowed in certain places due to their behaviour. This limits the type and amount of accommodation that can be accessed at short notice.

“In these circumstances, we will accommodate people outside the borough. This comes at no cost to the rough sleeper as we pay for all accommodation and transportation. We also have an arrangement with the Swindon Food Collective whereby parcels of dry food are handed out to each person.

“Rough sleepers don’t always engage with our services in a planned way and finding suitable accommodation at short notice is therefore not easy. Despite these challenges, we are committed to continuing to provide excellent SWEP services for those who need them.”

Threshold calls for local solution to problem

Threshold provides the town’s primary Rough Sleeper Outreach Service, working with the council’s Rough Sleeper Navigators.

Michael Keenan, CDO of Swindon’s Threshold Homeless Link said: “We are acutely aware that rough sleepers have experienced a number of barriers to accessing SWEP accommodation and it is very regrettable that this has been the case.

“During SWEP rough sleepers may be offered accommodation by the Council that is outside of Swindon, which will mean they could travel quite some distance and depending on the length of SWEP they way be away from Swindon for several days. If local accommodation was available then the Council would surely use it, but there are simply very limited and insufficient options at present in Swindon. This does complicate the choice that rough sleepers will make as many rely upon access to medical care, of one sort or another, on a daily basis in Swindon, particularly those in treatment for substance dependence.

“Therefore the present SWEP accommodation options available can see people refuse the offer of emergency accommodation.

“Threshold is currently in discussion with Swindon Borough Council about ways that we can overcome the current barriers that service users are experiencing before the time when SWEP is typically most activated, during February and March.

“Clearly until a local solution can be established, such a 24-hour day-night centre, then rough sleepers may make the difficult and dangerous choice to remain on the streets during severe weather.

“If this can be achieved then rough sleepers will have a clear base that they can gravitate towards which will eliminate the types of problems that are arising for them at present.”