Advice for street homelessness

Sleeping on the streets should only ever be a last resort. Get practical advice on safety, health care, vet treatments for your pets, and keeping in touch with friends and family.

Get homeless help from the council

If you have nowhere safe to stay, make a homeless application to the council. You should be given accommodation on the day you need it.

They must help if you are homeless or likely to become homeless in the next two months.

Apply to the council as homeless

Keeping warm

If you have no option but to sleep on the streets, you should:

  • try to find somewhere sheltered

  • protect yourself against the cold by having a sleeping bag and/or blankets

  • avoid sleeping directly on the ground, for example, by putting cardboard or blankets down first.

Keeping safe

It is best to stay where other people are sleeping, as there is safety in numbers. However, sleeping in a visible place may put you at risk from the general public. Women may be more at risk if they are in an area where there are people they don't know.

Some areas have outreach teams who visit the places where people are sleeping rough. The outreach teams may be able to help you get into a hostel or night shelter, or they may tell you about day centres you can go to.


People who are street homeless are particularly vulnerable to crime. If your property is stolen, or if you are assaulted or attacked, you should always report it to the police.

If you feel uncomfortable about going to the police, contact Victim Support Scotland. They offer practical help and emotional support to victims of crime. Visit the website or call 0800 160 1985.

Scottish Women's Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland offer help and support to people who are victims of rape or sexual abuse.

The Victims of Crime in Scotland website has lots of useful information on how to report a crime.

Registering with a doctor

People sleeping on the streets have a right to register with a doctor. You can ask to be seen as a temporary resident if you're staying somewhere longer than 24 hours but less than three months. However, this will not get a medical card. You will only get this if a doctor accepts you as a permanent patient.

You do not need an address to register. You can use a 'care of' address, such as a friend or a day centre.

To find your nearest GP's surgery, you can:

Your doctor can also refer you to other agencies that can help you, for example with depression or addictions.

Drop-in centres

In cities and large towns, there may be a drop-in surgery for people sleeping on the streets. Health service staff also visit day centres and offer check ups and treatment. These may include:

  • nurses

  • opticians

  • dentists

  • chiropodists

  • doctors

  • psychiatrists

Some day centres employ staff to help people with mental health problems or drink and drug problems.

You may also be able to get a bath or shower and a change of clothes at a day centre if you require. Many day centres do not allow drink or drugs on the premises.

Contact Shelter Scotland for details of your nearest day centre or drop-in surgery.

What to do in an emergency

  • Call NHS 24 on 111 for urgent 24-hour health information and advice

  • Go to your nearest Accident and Emergency department

  • Dial 999 for an ambulance

Staying in touch

People living on the streets may lose touch with friends and family if they are moving from place to place. At the same time, friends and family may need to get in contact with you.

  • Some day centres will accept mail on behalf of people sleeping on the streets who use the centre on a regular basis.

  • Outreach teams may be able to pass on messages to your family for you

  • Missing People have a free, confidential 24-hour helpline on 116000. The advisers can pass on a message to your family without telling them where you are, talk through your options and help you decide what to do next and put you in touch with local advice agencies who can help you. Visit the Missing people website for more information.

  • Free or cheap internet access is offered by some public libraries and internet cafes if you want to send and receive emails.


Meal services

Day centres may provide free or cheap meals. Contact Shelter Scotland or Citizen's Advice Scotland to find out if there is a soup run or meal service operating near you.

Food banks

In order to get help from the food bank, you might need to be referred with a voucher. Check online to see if your local food banks need you to have a referral voucher or not.

Find a food bank near you

Storing your belongings

If you are worried about your belongings, some day centres can store them for you.

Find support organisations

Caring for your pets

Most night shelters will not accept animals. It's best to check in advance before turning up with your pet.

Find a dog-friendly shelter near you

If you have a pet, you may be able to get free or cheap veterinary treatment through an animal charity. You may have to provide proof that you are claiming benefits and that you have nowhere permanent to live.

The Dogs Trust offers free veterinary treatment for dogs owned by people with no fixed address.

Get help with vet costs

If you need to talk to someone, we’ll do our best to help. Get Help

Last updated: 10 June 2021

Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.

This content applies to Scotland only.

Get advice if you're in England