Jackie Mlotek talks about some of the risks and realities of experiencing homelessness in the hotter weather, with some tips on what you can do to help.
Summer in the City
Experiencing homelessness, in its many variations, is always a difficult experience. In the summer there are realities that often go unconsidered by people who aren’t experiencing homelessness. Living on the street is difficult in every season, but there are often a lot less services for folks during the summer months. Being aware of things like heat exhaustion/stroke or dehydration is important, because these health issues can get very serious and intensified for folks who are homeless or marginally housed.
Heat alerts, like the one we’re seeing in the first week of September, do thankfully have cooling centers and things of that nature available.
Homes First works from a Housing First philosophy, which essentially an integrated framework of services that prioritize giving people who are experiencing homelessness/marginally housed, stable, adequate, safe, affordable housing as a way to end homelessness. Multiple studies have shown that Housing First allows folks to access other services that may be needed such as mental health services, or other social services, and reduces and can possibly eliminate chronic homelessness. With this in mind, there’s a lot folks can do regardless if you’re experiencing homelessness or not. In this very intense heat, one thing you can do to help is to contact your city councilor and have a conversation about the rules of heat alerts in Toronto. Currently, in Toronto, a heat alert will only be issued if it’s more than 31 degrees for more than 2 days, and an extreme heat alert will be issued if it’s more than 3 days. That being said, services like cooling centers can’t operate unless an official heat alert has been issued. Unfortunately it doesn’t even need to be exactly 31 degrees to make people sick, it can be much less, especially with Toronto’s humid and smoggy city weather.
In the meantime, Toronto Public Health has these tips on how to stay cool in our heat wave. These recommendations can be difficult to access if you don’t have easy access to things like showers, a lot of choice in clothing, or choices in terms of being outside or inside. No one should have to go through this, and it’s abhorrent that so many people pass away from heat related health issues.
“During a Heat Alert, the public is encouraged to call or visit family, friends and neighbours, especially isolated adults and seniors who are at greater risk of suffering from heat-related illness, to make sure they are cool and drinking plenty of fluids. Other groups at risk include people with chronic illnesses, individuals with limited mobility or certain mental health illnesses, infants and young children, people on certain medications, and those who are homeless.
Members of the public are advised to beat the heat by taking these precautions:
- Drink lots of cool water even before you feel thirsty.
- Go to air-conditioned places, including shopping malls or one of many local libraries or community centres located in each neighbourhood.
- Take cool showers or baths or use cool wet towels to cool down.
- Wear loose, light-coloured, breathable clothing and, when outdoors, wear a wide brimmed hat.
- Avoid the sun and stay in the shade or use an umbrella.
- Reschedule or plan outdoor activities during the cooler parts of the day.
- Never leave seniors, children or pets unattended in a car.”
By: Jackie Mlotek