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Top Five Ways the Summer Heat is Dangerous for the Homeless

Posted on June 22, 2016

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.
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