Hot weather and the homeless

Jul 13, 2016 by

Cold weather or hot weather: What do you think poses a bigger danger to homeless people?

Given how long winter is, you’d be forgiven for thinking that bone-chilling temperatures, like the ones we had this past winter, pose the most danger to homeless people. But for the frontline workers at Shepherds of Good Hope, the heat is the biggest weather challenge.

With Ottawa in store for some hot, humid weather over the weekend and into next week, staff will be extra vigilant in checking with the men and women who use our services.

Christal

Christal, one of those frontline workers, works at our main shelter building on King Edward. She says the impact of a hot day can sneak up on people.

We all know when we’re cold. We feel it as soon as we step outside, but sometimes in the summer it’s hours before you know you’re thirsty and on the way to serious dehydration.

“I’ll spend 95 per cent of my shift outside with our clients,” she said. “We walk around, constantly making sure no one is getting overheated. We have jugs of water and Styrofoam cups and we don’t wait for people to ask for water. We go up to them and simply ask them to take some water.”

Some clients have their own jugs or water bottles and they’re not shy about coming in to ask for a fill-up.

However, a lot of homeless people suffer from chronic alcoholism or have a drug addiction. Living in the extreme heat is even more dangerous for them.

Research shows that their addictions make their bodies respond differently, increasing their cravings and dependency. A homeless person can’t recognize some of the changes that are happening connected to their addiction and the heat.

For example, not every one knows that drinking alcohol on a very warm day actually speeds up the dehydration process.

“We tell them to drink and they say they are. But alcohol is not the way to hydrate,” added Christal.

If someone is suffering from heat exposure, Shepherds is equipped to help them. TESP (Transitional Emergency Shelter Program) is located on the first floor and has 49 beds for men women. With a nurse on staff, anyone can be assessed for things such as heat stroke or dehydration.

The first course of treatment is simply to get them in a cooler area and to provide them with water. Medical staff members are able to monitor their vital signs and in extreme cases paramedics might be called in order to transfer the patient to a hospital.

“We watch for the signs,” says Christal. “We know a lot of our clients well and we can tell when someone is suffering from the heat. We act pretty quickly.”

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