Ten Ways to Help Neighbors Experiencing Homelessness in Summer Months

We are now in the midst of summer heat. How might that impact our neighbors experiencing homelessness?

The summer can be one of the most dangerous times for those without shelter or AC to cool off with.

It’s always interesting to me when people don’t associate the same kinds of weather related dangers in the summertime as people do in the wintertime. I think it’s really important that people understand that it’s just as dangerous for folks who are unsheltered or homeless when the weather hits extreme heat temperatures.  

Just like in the winter months, our actions as a community matter more now than ever. Here are ten ways that we can help our vulnerable neighbors in the extreme heat.

1. Be The Kind Neighbor

Don’t ignore someone you pass on your way to work or to the grocery store. Instead, take a second of your time to see if they are alright.

If someone looks like they are having a difficult time, ask them if there is anything you can do for them. Ask them their name and inquire about how they are doing. See if they need water and if they are experiencing any symptoms due to the heat.

The more that you interact with and form relationships with those you pass by every day, the easier it will be to gauge how they are feeling.

2. Know the Symptoms and be a Hero

Unfortunately, heat exhaustion and heat strokes are very common among the homeless population. 

Knowing what to look for can be the difference between life and death. Common symptoms caused by heat exhaustion and heat strokes are: dark-colored urine, pale skin, profuse sweating, rapid heartbeat, muscle or abdominal cramps, dizziness, confusion, and fainting.

3. Help Individuals Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated is essential to surviving the summer. Unfortunately, this could be a difficult task for the people who often have to walk miles each day in the heat just to access basic necessities like food, showers, and restrooms 

Additionally, mental illness is very common among members of the homeless community and the medication can heighten symptoms of dehydration and overheat. 

Consider having extra water with you or in your car  to offer those on the street. You could also offer to buy them water from the nearest convenience store or fast food restaurant.

4. Can’t Find Shade? Bring it to Them

It can sometimes be tough to escape the sun on the sweltering summer days. One way to help your neighbor experiencing homelessness is to offer them a few of the sun-blocking necessities.

Any extra hats, visors, sunscreen, or lip balm could be a tremendous help for those stuck out in the sun all day. 

Excessive sun exposure can turn into sunburns which can be detrimental for someone without access to medication or shelter. Sunburns can lead to infections with symptoms such as;  “​​high fever, headache, severe pain, dehydration, confusion, nausea or chills.”

5. Take Them to the Nearest Library or Public Fountain 

When you notice a person experiencing homelessness struggling in the heat, a simple option is to offer to take them to the nearest public library. There are 26 libraries in the DC area which contain shade and a cooled building for them to get out of the sun and off their feet for a while. Most restaurants and stores are restricted to only customers, so the library is a great place for them to escape the heat!

You may not always have a spare water bottle that you carry around or have in your car, but there are other ways to help hydrate those on the street. Public water fountains are located all around DC. By simply letting someone know where one is, you can save them from the drastic effects of dehydration. 

6. Cooling Shelters are Game Changers

On excessively hot summer days cooling shelters open up to offer resources, relief, and aid from experts. 

In our previous blog, Cynthia Silva provides good information on the cooling shelters and how much of an impact they can make. Although most of the unhoused population is aware of the regular shelter locations, not many know about the cooling shelters. 

These shelters are only open on particularly hot days so it is important to pay attention to the DC heat alerts. 

7. Call the Experts

Taking someone to a cooling shelter can sometimes be a bigger task than expected. If someone on the street is overheating or unable to walk to a cooling shelter, there is a service that can help. 

The Hyperthermia Hotline (1-800-535-7252) is a service that offers water and transportation to the nearest cooling shelter.

8. Protect Them from Infections

Infections can be the deadliest part of the summer for those without a shelter. This can come from bug bites, sunburns, and even athletes’ feet.

Bugs tend to come out in the summer, and if an individual is trying to escape the heat by going to a shaded area, bug bites are inevitable. You can help your neighbors fight off bugs by providing some bug spray. 

Athletes’ foot and other foot infections might not be the first thing that you think about when it comes to the struggles of being homeless in the summer, but it is extremely common as they are often on their feet all day and accumulating sweat. You can pick up a pack of socks or antifungal spray to combat any foot infections they may be prone to.

9. Help Us, Help Our Neighbors Experiencing Homelessness

There are other ways to give to the less fortunate during the midst of summer without having to carry around any necessities.

Thrive DC is a one-stop shop for our vulnerable community members to access emergency services of all kinds, whether that be food, laundry, showers, groceries, or more. People who come here can get shade, water, bug spray, and even spare clothes. And if someone comes with an infection or medical emergency, we can connect them with medical professionals to get the best help.

When you support Thrive, whether with a financial donation or material resource, you are having a direct impact on our neighbors struggling with the summer heat. In addition to a monetary donation, we are also accepting summer clothing, sunscreen, deodorant, lotion, hats, and other summer gear.

To learn more about in-kind donations or how to organize a summer donation drive, please contact our In-Kind Coordinator at (202) 503-1528 or [email protected].

10. In the event of a Heat Stroke, Call 911

Of course, if the situation is severe, always call 911 for emergencies.

Especially on a hot day, never overlook someone that is passed out on the street. It may look like it is due to intoxication, but more than likely they are having a heat stroke and it is best to call 911 immediately.