'It's terrible... I'm scared' - Rough sleepers face battle to survive in sub-zero temperatures

As the cold snap bites and temperatures plummet, it’s rough sleepers like Paul Herbert who feel it first, and feel it hardest.

He’s been on the streets of Birmingham for two months, and told ITV Central he was frightened of what the winter months might mean for him.

“It’s terrible. I haven’t slept properly for the last week. I haven’t got a sleeping bag or anything - I have to breathe into my clothes to try to keep warm,” he said.

“I’m scared to be honest.

“I’m dithering every night at the moment. I’ve got one, two, three coats on and I’m still constantly cold. And it’s only going to get worse.

“Sometimes, I feel I’d be better in prison or in hospital.

“I know sometimes people don’t like to hear it, but I’d probably better off dead.”

Paul has been sleeping rough in Birmingham for two months Credit: ITV Central

He says he’s been unable to get into a hostel, as they’re regularly at capacity.

He’s among those helped on a regular basis by outreach group Active Christians, who offer food, drink and supplies to those sleeping rough, along with support when accessing services.

They are working towards opening their own overnight shelter to try to ease pressure, and give people a place to go when the temperatures drop below zero.

“People are going to die,” Pastor Colin Rankine said.

“The minute I see frost in the morning or I know there’s going to be a cold snap, I’m out helping the homeless. If we don’t come out with that hot cup of coffee or tea - it’s life and death.

“If we can get our own building, if we can just get people off the street the minute they hit the streets, they will never get into drugs, they will never get into the alcohol addiction, and then they can start rebuilding their lives.”

Meanwhile, a giant four metre tall statue of a rough sleeper has been unveiled at St Martin’s Church, next to the Bullring in the city centre.

'Alex' represents rough sleepers helped by charity Crisis Credit: ITV Central

It’s been put together by homelessness charity Crisis, to highlight what it says is a growing problem.

Jasmine Basra, the head of policy and campaigns at Crisis, told ITV Central they wanted to “start a conversation” about the problem of homelessness, including the so-called “hidden homeless”; which includes people in temporary accommodation and those forced to stay with friends or family.

She said the charity was seeing higher and higher numbers of rough sleepers too.

“Ultimately we’re seeing the number of rough sleepers rising on our streets, and if we don’t see significant and urgent action from the government soon, we are at risk of seeing 300,000 families homeless next year,” she warned.

The statue’s appearance comes after Birmingham City Council activated its Severe Weather Emergency Protocol, opening up more capacity and trying to get as many rough sleepers as possible into accommodation, away from the cold.

'I just want to keep warm and have some food in my belly... It’s getting harder and harder to survive out here'

Jasvinder Bishop, the council’s strategic lead for rough sleeping, said: “It’s a protocol that we have where we try to get everybody indoors.

“Regardless of anybody’s immigration status, regardless of anybody’s benefit status, any kind of exclusions, any support needs, everybody who is out will be offered a bed.”

Earlier this week, the government announced an extra £50m of support for vulnerable people, aimed at preventing them from becoming homeless, as part of a £2bn scheme to reduce homelessness over the next three years.

But out on the streets, there’s a more pressing concern: Where to go to get respite from the biting cold - and make it through until tomorrow.

“There’s a lot of good people out here that do help and do want the best for people and I don’t want to cause problems for anyone,” Paul said.

“I just want to keep warm and have some food in my belly... It’s getting harder and harder to survive out here.”