How museums can help people who are homeless during the heatwave

As the country braces for its hottest-ever day, we need to do everything we can to provide sanctuary for those at risk. Jess Turtle, co-founder of the Museum of Homelessness, writes for the Museum Association. 

We think that museums could play a vital role in mitigating the worst effects of the heat for people who are street homeless or stuck in inadequate temporary accommodation. In the UK, the dual impacts of slow onset climate change and infrastructure changes due to Covid are causing a deadly situation, and as we write this, the country is braced for the highest temperatures ever recorded. The people most affected are those with least access to resources and we need to do everything we can to help.

Currently, we have a situation with a dire gap in homelessness provision, which is leading to a documented increase in deaths of people experiencing homelessness in the summer months. This is demonstrated with investigation findings from Museum of Homelessness’ Dying Homeless Project, which tracks and remembers everyone who dies while homeless in the UK. We have found that more people die in the summer months than in winter, indicating the severe risk our community faces in the next few days.

It is clear that people who are living at the sharp end of poverty, both in the UK and globally, are at most immediate risk from the impacts of climate change, and we need policies and practice to catch up as a matter of extreme urgency. Whilst this happens, museums can help fill the gap.

Museums often have thick walls and environmental controls which keep a steady temperature. Combined with access to toilets and water this could be a life-saving scenario for people who are susceptible to extreme heat, including people affected by homelessness.

We can draw inspiration from the way other countries are responding. France for example, after the disastrous impact of the 2003 Canicule, has a much more strategic response to extreme heat. In Bordeaux, the Musee des Beaux-Arts is a key site within the coordinated cooling spaces response. With unpredictable and extreme heatwaves set to stay, museums can learn from these examples.

However, it is not as simple as just putting air-conditioned sites on an app as the Mayor of London’s office did last week. The fact is, our community does not always feel comfortable and welcomed in museums. Work that we carried out in partnership with Arts and Homelessness International, Tate and Manchester Museum in 2018 and 2019 demonstrated that there are a lot of barriers to using museum spaces. These can be psychological, emotional or literal barriers.

We would love to see more museums actively encouraging people experiencing homelessness to find shelter within their walls, and in the near future we need to see policy/funding changes made to free up museums to do more of this vital work.

In the meantime, we are sharing here some practical tips that front-of-house teams can implement immediately to make their museums more welcoming in the heat. These are based on the Cultural Spaces Toolkit we worked on with Arts and Homelessness International.

  • The threshold and how people are welcomed is key – it should be friendly and consistent
  • Signage should be welcoming – this space is for you and clear (people can be anxious e.g. when they don’t know if they will be asked to pay)
  • Greeting people or allowing them to come in unchallenged both have merits, it’s often a matter of reading people’s body language
  • Sometimes non-homeless visitors may complain if they see people who are homeless – the staff member should point out that the space is for everyone
  • Is there security? How authoritarian is the uniform? Many people are put off by people in authority so ensuring that the security team is extra friendly can help
  • Bag checks are difficult and need to be made as friendly as possible. If you must do bag checks, remind people they are not being singled out but that bag checks are essential in some public spaces. A person’s entire belongings may be in their bag
  • Going the extra mile. Some spaces provide free or pay-what-you-can tea/coffee/water, free wifi, free lockers, phone charging points
  • Designate a space as a Quiet Space; this can be useful for visitors with a variety of needs.

We hope that museums who are interested in social justice work and tackling climate change can see this heatwave as an opportunity to trial some really excellent practice, providing a sanctuary for our fellow citizens who are most affected by climate change.

Jess Turtle is the co-founder of the Museum of Homelessness

Read more about ERSA’s work on homelessness via our Secure Homes and Work Forum

New event responds to homelessness and vulnerable housing crisis

Secure Homes and Work – supported by Cognisoft

To watch this event on demand and see the latest events and information visit our forum page. 

Responses to homelessness and vulnerable housing, getting people good jobs that ensure secure housing.
Wednesday 29 June 2022, 10am – 12.30pm

On 29 June, 10am – 12.30pm, please join us for a free online event for all employment support providers focussing on responses to homelessness and vulnerable housing, getting people good jobs that ensure secure housing.

This event will include information for providers of Restart, Work and Health Programme. JETS, ESF funded provision, devolved commissioned programmes, Community Renewal Fund and your local delivery.

Hosted by the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA).

With expert speakers drawing on their experience of what works:

  • Homelessness services and pathways. What are the needs around employment support? – Adam Rees, Service Director, St Mungo’s
  • What works? The evidence around homelessness and employment. Nick Bartholdy, Evidence & Data Specialist, Centre for Homelessness Impact
  • Piloting IPS in Homelessness Services – Amy Kimbangi, Senior Service Manager, St Mungo’s
  • Employers committing to recruitment and in work support
  • Provider examples 
  • Lessons we can learn
  • Building a community of good practice

Register in advance and join us on teams on 29 June at 10am. 

Welfare Ministers praise Salvation Army as ‘fourth emergency service’ during visit to homeless centre


The visit came as the Department for Work and Pensions announced £3m in funding for jobcentre staff to work with homeless people

A DWP minister commended the work of The Salvation Army’s work in helping rough sleepers get their lives back on track, including finding work. All support is individually tailored to their personal needs and job goals.

Under Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions, Baroness Deborah Stedman-Scott said: “I’ve known The Salvation Army for many years and think of them as the fourth emergency service – they are there when you really are in trouble.”

Baroness Stedman-Scott was joined on the visit by the Minister for Welfare Delivery Will Quince MP to The Salvation Army’s Riverside Complex in east London. The centre provides a second-chance for women rough sleepers. They heard from residents about how they are rebuilding their lives with the support of the church and charity’s homelessness support service and Employment Plus programme, which helps people get the skills needed to find a job.

Riverside Complex in Tower Hamlets provides housing for 80 women along with support to help them tackle the reasons they ended up on the streets. These can range from mental ill health, addictions, domestic violence or sex work.

Marcia*, has lived at Riverside for nine months after spending five years sleeping rough.  The 39-year-old lives with mental ill health and struggles with addictions.  Since coming to The Salvation Army her mental health has stabilised and she has been able to get support to manage her addictions. Her fresh start now sees her looking for work and she’s started writing her first ever CV.  Marcia told the ministers: “The staff here are amazing – they take time to really listen to you.  Everything they do to help is done from the heart with a passion.”

More people like Marcia need our help which is why The Salvation Army is calling on the Government to make additional investment in services that join up support for rough sleepers in finding employment and tackling the many reasons that lead to their homelessness. We want to the Government go further in their commitment to providing specialist, tailored support and also making the process of applying for and receiving Universal Credit easier for people.    

Helen Wilson, Riverside Complex Service Manager said: “We were delighted to show the ministers around and explain the different stages of support we provide at Riverside from a more ‘hands on’ approach when residents first arrive, to helping them begin to live independently in supported housing, and then preparing them for a home of their own.

“We know that solving someone’s immediate basic need of a place to live is the vital first step.  We also recognise that everyone goes at their own pace and will have different wants and needs when it comes to overcoming their homelessness and the reasons they were on the streets, some of which may be traumatic or deeply ingrained.”

The Salvation Army has a long history of helping people find steady employment so they can lead independent and fulfilling lives. Its supported accommodation centres, like the Riverside Centre are known as lifehouses because they offer more than a safe place to stay. Residents are supported by a range of courses and activities which include job hunting, cookery classes and household budgeting. They also get advice on how to keep a tenancy which is an important part of breaking the cycle of homelessness.

Will Quince MP said: “This has been a fantastic visit not only to meet the residents but also to see the incredible work that The Salvation Army does supporting those experiencing homelessness and rough sleeping and giving them that wrap-around support.  I am really keen for us to give more support to those who are already doing so much to support vulnerable and disadvantaged groups.”

At Riverside, our Employment Development Co-ordinator talked the ministers through the process of helping someone get started on the road to employment.  From getting their identity documents in order, such as their national insurance number and birth certificate, to helping with job applications and preparing for an interview, women are supported at each step.  

Rebecca Keating, Director of Employment Services for The Salvation Army said: “We welcome the £3m investment announced by the Government last week to help homeless people access essential benefits but it is not enough to break the cycle of homelessness. Accessing benefits is not enough to prevent someone from sleeping on the streets, you must help them recover from the reasons they ended up rough sleeping in the first place.  We need to make sure employment support for homeless people is linked to other support services like health, counselling and employment and skills training.”

— ENDS —

Notes to Editors
For media enquiries, please contact the PR & Communications office: / 020 3657 7555

*name has been changed

The Salvation Army is an international Christian church and registered charity which has been transforming lives for more than 150 years. Working in 131 countries worldwide, The Salvation Army offers friendship, practical help and support for people at all levels of need. In the UK and Republic of Ireland this work includes more than 750 community churches and social centres. Registered Charity Nos. 214779, 215174 and in Scotland SC009359, SC037691. For more information visit the website

The Salvation Army is calling on the Government to:

  • Make additional investment in services that join up support for rough sleepers in finding employment and tackling the many reasons that lead to their homelessness, like mental ill health, addictions and problems keeping a tenancy
  • Go further in providing specialist, tailored support so that people can easily make and continue their claim for Universal Credit through the online system.  
  • The Salvation Army urges the Government to release and consult on a detailed plan of how they intend to ensure the Government’s manifesto commitment of £500m to support disadvantaged people with the skills they need to make a success of life and ensure that money is spent efficiently and effectively.