Summer may be coming to an end, but the heatwaves have not left us yet. While the summer and the hot temperatures often means beach days, heading to the pool, and relaxing in air-conditioned houses to many, to those experiencing homelessness these temperatures can be extremely harmful, and even deadly.
We are no strangers to extreme weather in Canada; however, cold winter conditions and snowstorms are often what comes to mind when we talk about weather affecting those living on the streets. But did you know that the extreme heat of the summer can be just as dangerous?
What are extreme heatwaves, and how do they affect people experiencing homelessness?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines extreme heat as “temperatures that stay 10° or more above the average high for a region over weeks.” But extreme heat events are also announced by Environment and Climate Change Canada and health authorities at temperatures associated with increased deaths and hospitalizations.
As temperatures during the summer rise and heatwaves become more common, it is those experiencing homelessness that are more vulnerable to heat-related illnesses. Some symptoms they can experience are:
- Sun burns
- Heat stroke
- Heat exhaustion
- Heat cramps
Other issues that can come with extreme heat exposure are:
- Insomnia, due to irritability and the inability to sleep and find proper shelter during a heat wave
- Increased use of drug and alcohol abuse to escape the discomfort of the heat, which becomes more dangerous during a heat wave as the use of alcohol dehydrates the body, while certain drugs that contain amphetamines can create hyperthermic (heatstroke symptom) responses in the body.
Symptoms of extreme heat exposure can be more than physical. People experiencing homelessness or living in poverty often are in more stressful situations because of their difficult living conditions. When extreme heat is added on top of this, people can lose their typical coping mechanisms and their tempers can rise.
Have you ever been mad simply because you were too hot and uncomfortable? Imagine that feeling, while also having to think about where your next meal will come from, where you can find water, and not knowing where you are going to sleep tonight.
Read more about heat-related illnesses: Heat-Related Illnesses (Heat Cramps, Heat Exhaustion, Heat Stroke) | Johns Hopkins Medicine
Here’s how you can help:
1. Buy extra sunscreen.
Sunburn can cause skin damage and sun stroke. Purchase an extra bottle of sunscreen while you are buying some for yourself and hand them out to your more vulnerable neighbours.
2. Donate items to organizations such as The Mustard Seed.
To beat the heat this summer, our clients mostly need:
- Hats, Bug Spray and Summer Clothing
- Water and Hydration Drinks
- Hygiene items
Each city has an Urgently Needed Items list on our website here.
3. Make sure they stay hydrated.
Finding drinking water and staying hydrated during a heatwave is difficult for those experiencing homelessness. Donating bottled water and reusable water bottles can go a long way in helping them survive extreme weather conditions.
You can even keep some bottled water in your car and pass out water to your vulnerable neighbours that you see on the streets during the summer.
4. Connect them to a charity such as The Mustard Seed.
If you see a person sleeping in the sun on the streets the best thing you can do is let somebody else help. Contact The Mustard Seed, or a similar organization, to get that person somewhere safe. The Mustard Seed is here to help anyone who needs basic everyday necessities such as shelter, food, water, or medical care. We extend our reach to help and support as many individuals experiencing homelessness as we can. Please get in touch with us at any of our locations.
5. Donate money to a charity.
Make a financial donation to an organization that supports those experiencing homelessness. Financial donations allow charities to act fast and respond to people’s needs quickly. The Mustard Seed offers people “in-days” at our shelter, allowing our guests to stay indoors and avoid the harsh elements.
Because of peoples generous donations, we are able to offer hats, sunscreen, bottled water and clean clothes to our guests during the summer. By donating this summer, you help us provide our more vulnerable neighbours with lifesaving resources in these weather conditions. You can donate here.
6. Your call can save a life.
Call 911 if you see someone unconscious or noticeably sweating and confused. While waiting for help, try to lower their temperature by moving them to a cool place or applying cold water to their skin.
If a person asks for help, consider giving them a bus ticket so that they can get to a safe place to cool down. The Mustard Seed has several neighbourhood hubs as well as overnight shelters where people can get access to water, snacks and shelter.
7. Spread the word.
Share this article! Spreading the word about the dangers of intense heat exposure can help in more ways than you might think. By sharing this information with your family and friends, our actions and efforts go a long way to improving the quality of life and safety of those experiencing homelessness.
Today, let’s ensure we all have a fun and SAFE summer!