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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Have you ever thought about what it’s like to be homeless in a DC summer? Imagine - the same blazing sun and oppressive humidity but no air-conditioned home or office for escape.
For about 8,000 individuals in DC this is their reality. However, there are places you can help them find to stay cool and healthy.
To help people who are especially vulnerable to things like heat stroke, DC has something called a heat emergency plan. What is it? Whenever the temperature gets above 95 degrees, cooling centers are activated all over the district.
These facilities offer air-conditioned spaces where people can rest and recover. Keep in mind: these are only open to the public during a heat emergency, and not all facilities are alike.
Use the map below and become a cooling center expert! Not only will you know where you and your family can duck in out from under the sun, but you can also show people suffering in the heat where to find some relief.
Note: If you find someone suffering from heat exhaustion, call the hyperthermia hotline by dialing 311. Someone will come pick them up and take them to a cooling facility.
If a person looks like they’re having a heat stroke, call 911 immediately! For less serious situations, such as being slightly overheated, you can direct them to the nearest resource on the map below.
These are the general cooling centers open to anyone Monday - Friday from noon to 6 PM and are marked by red thermometers.
These are cooling centers that open specifically for homeless individuals during a heat emergency and are marked by grey bursts of wind. Be sure to check the map to see when each facility is open!
These are cooling centers for senior citizens. These are especially designed for seniors without access to air conditioning and are marked by yellow suns.
Spray parks are perfect for anyone who is a little overheated and just needs to cool down for a while. You can find a spray park in practically any part of the city by clicking on the blue showerheads.
The last layer shows the location of public libraries throughout the District. While not specifically part of the heat emergency plan, they are important resources for homeless individuals and oases of air-conditioning.
So, how can you tell if a person needs a cooling facility? This can be a bit tricky. But, the adjacent graphic is a great resource for you to use. Remember: if someone is suffering from heat exhaustion call 311. If someone is suffering from heat stroke call 911!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: