202-737-9311 | info@thrivedc.org

When the heat index reaches 95 degrees outside or hotter, the District issues a Heat Alert.

During a Heat Alert, the District’s top advice is to:

This is impossible for many in our homeless community. We’ve talked before about how extreme heat can be just as or more dangerous than extreme cold.

With conditions becoming riskier for people forced to stay outside, we need everyone’s help to look out for our vulnerable neighbors. Here are 5 things you can do to help the homeless during a heat emergency.

Know What To Look For

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are the most serious conditions than can result from overexposure.

The symptoms of heat exhaustion to look out for are: dark colored urine, pale skin, profuse sweating, rapid heartbeat, muscle or abdominal cramps, dizziness, confusion, and fainting.

If left unaddressed, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke.

Heat stroke is a medical emergency. Symptoms include throbbing headaches, red, hot, and dry skin, lack of sweating despite the heat, muscle weakness or cramps, rapid heartbeat, rapid, shallow breathing, seizures, and unconsciousness.

Don’t Ignore Someone

If you think that someone is having a hard time, ask how they’re doing!

Introduce yourself and ask their name, and see when the last time they had water was. Have a conversation around how their feeling, and see if they are experiencing any of the symptoms above. If they are, show them where to go! DC has lots of options to escape the heat, see the map below for places in your area.

If someone is thirsty, offer water. Staying hydrated is one of the most important things to do in the heat, and you can make a big difference in someone’s day with $1.50 bottle of water.

If you run into someone who looks passed out in the heat, check to see if they’re ok. If they look like they’re sleeping then let them be, but if they’re unresponsive, remember your Red Cross training and call 911 immediately.

Who You Gonna’ Call?

If someone needs help getting out of the heat, call the hyperthermia hotline at 1-800-535-7252. The United Planning Organization (UPO) will send a van and can provide water and transport to the nearest cooling station.

In the event of a heat stroke or if a person is unconscious, call 911 immediately.

Know Your Options

Like DC says at the top of the page, the best way to avoid suffering from the heat is to stay inside as much as possible. As the map to the right illustrates, there are many resources available for the homeless to take refuge in and escape the heat.

Click on the slider in the upper left of the map to see more options.

Know the resources in your area, and be prepared to direct someone to their nearest cooling shelter, library, spray park, or shelter.

Go Beyond The Crisis

At Thrive DC, we are on the front lines helping individuals without homes to have the resources they need to survive their situation, like helping them out water bottles, sunscreen, emergency clothing, hats or bug spray.

Whether or not we have these items depends on the generosity of our donors. You can help us by donating these items either in person or through our Amazon Wishlist.

There are other ways to help out too. Supporting Thrive DC financially helps us have the resources we need to help our clients, and volunteering with us gives our staff the chance to work more closely with our clients. The more people we have helping, the more one-on-one attention we can give.

To learn more about DC’s Heat Emergency Plan, click here.

Summer is now in session and temperatures are rocketing up. What does that mean for people without a home to retreat from the heat?

Unfortunately, many homeless individuals don’t have access to water or air-conditioned rooms and become at risk for severe sunburns, hyperthermia, heat stroke or other health hazards.

These risks to a vulnerable population are avoidable and there are several things we can do to help. It is up to all residents to learn how to respond in these situations.

Read below for five concrete things you can do to help the homeless you meet outside!

Interaction Is A Great Start

Don’t be afraid to hand out water bottles or critical summer necessities.

Summer necessities include travel-sized sunscreen, water bottles (with ice), bug spray, and Gold Bond. You can have a couple on you or easily store them in your car.

Not only is this helping people in a direct and tangible way, it also gives you the opportunity to talk with someone and see how they’re doing.

The better you know people you may see regularly on the street, the better you’ll be able to assess if something is wrong the next time you meet them.

Know Where The Cooling Shelters Are

Guiding a homeless person to the nearest shelter allows them to be aided by experts within the field, ones that can provide them short-term and long-term resources and help. Libraries are also great for a drink of water and a cold building.

When it’s 95 degrees or more outside, DC opens up cooling shelters to offer more relief during the day. While many homeless may know where the regular shelters are, these special cooling shelters can go unnoticed. Pay attention to DC Heat alerts to know when these extra resources are available.

See the map above for cooling shelters, homeless shelters and libraries in your area.

Ask The Experts For Help

If you see someone in danger of heat-related stress, contact the hyperthermia hotline at 1-800-535-7252. The hotline can provide van transportation for a homeless individual to one of DC’s cooling centers.

During a heat alert, these shelters are activated on weekdays, and can provide water and a cool space for the homeless.


Not only should you locate your nearest shelter but feel free to help out!

Shelters are always in need of supplies, but some items are especially needed in the summer. You can help today with water bottles, new socks, sunscreen, bug spray, hats and visors for our clients.

To help us prepare and be ready for when our clients need us most, also consider a one-time or monthly gift. Your support helps us when we’re busiest during the height of summer and the dead of winter.

Another way to help out is by organizing a donation drive. For more information, contact our In-Kind Coordinator at (202) 503-1528 or inkind@thrivedc.org.

One Call Can Save A Life

If someone appears to be unconscious or passed out, local businesses and residents should not hesitate to call 9-1-1 immediately.

Don’t ignore the situation. Especially on a hot day, dehydration can happen quickly and even lying on the sidewalk can potentially lead to severe sunburns.

If you’re wrong, and the ambulance comes when it’s not needed then it’s just a waste of gas. But if you’re right, your call could save someone’s life.

Winter can seem like the most dangerous time of the year for the homeless. But actually, homeless individuals face a lot of unique challenges all through the year, from snow to heat.

People living on the streets need your help all year round. Here are the Top 5 ways summer is dangerous for the homeless, and what you can do to help.

No AC For The Homeless

For the homeless, turning on the AC during a hot day isn’t an option. If they can’t find a restaurant or store where they can get in out of the sun, they stand at increased risk for hyperthermia or heat stroke. On days when it’s 95 degrees outside or more, that’s deadly.

Restaurants and stores often have a “Customers Only” policy that put the homeless at a severe disadvantage when it comes to cooling off. When there’s a Hyperthermia alert on, libraries and public fountains serve as critical oases for the homeless.

The Heat Can Play Havoc With Medication

Sadly, mental illness is something a large part of the homeless population lives with and medication can mess with the way the human body reacts to heat. Antidepressants can prevent the body from sweating or prevent the blood flow to the skin from increasing, which puts them at greater risk of overheating.

The heat will also exacerbate any breathing problems. This disproportionately affects the homeless, who often suffer from respiratory infections.

Staying Hydrated Is Hard

It's a common misconception that cold exposure is the deadliest weather the homeless face; dehydration during the summer is actually a bigger cause of death.

Staying hydrated during the heat is super important as dehydration can worsen pre-existing health conditions. Having ready access to fresh water is a luxury many people don’t have when they are barred from public restaurants and stores, and lakes and rivers don’t count.

Bad Foot Hygiene Can Have Bad Consequences

The homeless are often on their feet all day long, and the hot weather can lead to severe athlete’s foot, pitted keratolysis, ingrown toe nails, and more.

These kind of problems are easy to avoid with proper footwear and consistently clean, dry socks, but many homeless individuals struggle to keep just one or two pairs with them, let alone clean.

More Bugs = More Biting

Bugs like mosquitoes and ticks multiply during the summer, and while they can be annoying for everyone, they can be especially dangerous for the homeless trying to find a safe place to sleep in a park or wooded area.

Without adequate protection like bug spray, these insects can keep someone up all night, cause infection, or spread diseases. Since many homeless people lack access to good healthcare, early signs of something wrong can either be not recognized or ignored.

What You Can Do

While summer can be full of hidden dangers, the good news is that there are lots of ways to help the homeless beat the heat:

  1. Donate items like water bottles, new socks, sunscreen, bug spray, hats, and visors to homeless shelters so people are prepared for the season. If you're interested in organizing a summer donation drive, contact Greg at (202) 503-1528 or greg@thrivedc.org.
  2. If you see someone passed out on a hot day, call 9-1-1. What may look like someone intoxicated can really be someone struggling with heat exhaustion.
  3. Give water and a place to go. Don’t be shy about giving water to someone on a hot day! Use it as a way to open conversation, and make sure they know where a shelter is nearby that they can get more help. Thrive DC has business cards and outreach materials available for free to pass out.
1525 Newton St NW
Washington, DC 20010
(202) 737-9311

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