Christmas is a time for giving and as the temperatures plummet, our thoughts turn more than ever to those forced to live on the streets.

The stark paradox between crowds of shoppers among bright festive lights, and belongings stuffed in doorways leads a lot of us to think of how we can best help those in need.

We've put together a few suggestions for how you can lend a hand now - and throughout the year.

1) Ask yourself first, does the person need emergency help?

1. If the person in question is under age or is sleeping rough with a child in their care, this is a matter to refer to the police immediately as local authorities have a legal obligation to provide shelter to children.

2. If the person is in need of urgent medical attention – for example, if they have an open wound or appear to be seriously ill – calling 999 for an ambulance will get them professional help quickly.

3. Another immediate concern, especially in cold conditions, is where the person is set to spend the next few hours.

Check if there are any night shelters open nearby that could offer a safe, warm sleeping areas.

2) Tell the authorities

Will they be outside in sub-zero temperatures?

During extremely cold weather – specifically, when temperatures fall to zero degrees or lower for three days – special measures come into action with the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP).

When this comes into force, the local authority and other organisations in the area will work to offer extra temporary accommodation where possible.

To alert authorities, you can use Streetlink 

This is a service that centralises reporting of rough sleepers.

A call or online referral to StreetLink will, where appropriate, be passed to the relevant local services – usually local authority outreach teams who operate at night.

Each council’s team has a different timetable dependent on demand, but they typically aim to reach a rough sleeper in one-to-three nights and offer support.

Sending an alert about a rough sleeper when SWEP provision is in place will ensure local services are aware of the individual and can refer them to this emergency accommodation.

Due to a high volume of calls when the weather is bad, StreetLink advises the best method to refer rough sleepers is via the website or app.

Runcorn and Widnes World:

3) Give shelter

If you have a spare room and want to help, you could volunteer to provide a warm bed for the night.

Organisations such as Nightstop places young people in a safe and warm home for the night, provided by vetted and approved volunteers.

And Refugees at Home is a UK based charity aiming to connect those with a spare room in their home with asylum seekers and refugees in need of accommodation.

4) Shop consciously

There are lots of ways you can still get your Christmas shopping done and also help the cause at the same time.

Organisations including the Big Issue have online shops where you can buy gifts and the money goes back into helping those in need.

5) Ask them what they want

Many people like to give hot drinks and food. While this is generous and in most cases gratefully received, it's always worth asking someone and talking to them about what they would like. Many homeless people have health issues, which may mean they can't eat or drink certain things.

And obviously, if they have an animal, food or blankets to keep them warm are a good idea.

Runcorn and Widnes World:

6) Do you have any old coats?

There are various organisations organising coat collections this year, including Take One, Leave One.

Another venture, Wrap Up Family (an offshoot of Wrap Up London) has collection points across the UK and drop-off points at plenty of places outside London.

7) Donate

There are a number of national charities and organisation you can donate to this Christmas.

  • Crisis£28.87 can reserve a place for someone this Christmas and introduce them to education, training and support.
  • Centrepoint - There's a number of different donations you can make to help Centrepoint look after vulnerable young people.
  • Shelter - Helping homeless families, you can donate from £10 to help a wide range of services including advice and support.

Don't forget the power of helping your local services. They will be under massive pressure at this time of year. Community fridges, shelters and street services will be grateful for support.

8) Volunteer

It's a really busy time of year, but if you're able to spend some time volunteering with either local or national charities there are a range of opportunities available.

Contact your local centres and see what you can do to help. Sometimes this might just be admin, but it will likely free someone else up to do one-to-one work. And that's really important.