15 Jul Heat, Homelessness and How You Can Help
Most residents of Simcoe Muskoka have been enjoying the sunshine and clear skies that we’ve been having this summer, and so they should. Our region is home to over 1,600 lakes, tens of thousands of acres of forest, historic downtown districts and a ton of fun summer activities.
But this summer is also slated to be the hottest summer in recorded history.
For many of us, that’s not much of a problem; we stay inside, take advantage of clean water and air conditioning or cool basements. For those in our communities who are living in homelessness, the heat of the summer can be dangerous and, in the worst circumstances, fatal.
People experiencing homelessness live with an extreme risk of exposure-related illnesses and death. Living conditions are already difficult when you don’t have a consistent roof over your head, but days and nights of intense hot weather makes things even worse.
“Dying in a heatwave is like being slowly cooked,” says Professor Camilo Mora, the lead author of a study that examined the worldwide risk of increasingly hot weather.
Unfortunately, as we saw last year, heatwaves can lead to death, even here in Canada. For people experiencing homelessness, this threat is all too real.
Because of the stigma and public attitude towards homelessness, many people who live on the streets are not even welcome in shopping malls, stores or restaurants where they might get a reprieve from the heat. For those that are lucky enough to spend the night in a shelter, only some homeless shelters have air conditioning, and those that do often have outdated units or machines that need repairs.
Extreme heat requires a unique response to help those experiencing homelessness. If you’re looking for a way to help during the summer months, here are some things to think about.
Shelters and outreach providers do incredible work, but there will always be a need for help. One of the best ways that you can help is to donate items that will go a long way during the hot summer.
Bottled water and hydrating foods, like watermelon, cucumber and soups, will help keep people cool and prevent dehydration. Sunscreen will help prevent painful burns and the long-term effects of constant exposure to the sun’s rays, as will hats. Sunglasses are helpful in preventing permanent eye damage.
Portable fans are great for getting even a little bit cooler and so are spare umbrellas that help make shade when there isn’t any around. Donating baby wipes will let people clean themselves and prevent infections like athlete’s foot. Bug spray will help keep back the disease-carrying insects that come with the hot weather, too.
Some of these items might seem obvious, but many of them aren’t. All of them are valuable for people living in homelessness, though.
Offer a Ride
There are a number of cooling stations across Simcoe County and Muskoka and other indoor refuges. If you see someone who is experiencing homelessness out in the heat, offer to help them find one of these cooling stations.
If you can’t find a designated station, public places like libraries and community centres offer a cool reprieve from the summer sun.
You could also offer to drive someone to one of these refuges, if you’re comfortable with having a stranger in your car. The air conditioning in your car will be refreshing and could help prevent heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Lend a Hand
There are other ways that you could directly help someone experiencing homelessness, too. However, be sure to keep respect and the person’s dignity in mind when offering help. What you think of as a kind gesture could easily be misinterpreted as pity or insulting, and heat can make someone more irritable.
There are more than a dozen bus routes in Barrie alone with multiple buses running on each line. Buying a ticket for someone will let them ride the bus and enjoy the air conditioning, if only for a little bit.
Offer to buy a bottle of water for someone if you see them in extreme heat without any. Don’t assume that everyone will want you to buy things for them, but many will appreciate the offer.
You can also get together with some friends or coworkers and make a hot weather survival kit. This could include any of the items mentioned in the list of donation items. These kits can then be handed out or given to local shelters.
It’s tough to think that the summer is anything but a few months of fun outside, and it is for most of us. But taking a few moments to consider the impact that extreme heat has on people living in poverty or experiencing homelessness can make a huge difference.
It can even save lives. If you see anyone experiencing symptoms of heat stroke, call 911. No matter how healthy someone looks, heat stroke can be deadly.
By helping out those who are experiencing homelessness, you’re doing your part to make poverty #UNIGNORABLE. To keep up with our work and how United Way Simcoe Muskoka is tackling local issues, subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.