This blog post was written by Inta Dukule, Fred Victor.
As we all know there is really no reasonable transition from winter to spring to summer in Toronto and we are now in a heatwave with 30+ temps. To complicate this year’s heat we are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Global pandemic adds extra challenges to people experiencing homelessness who are looking to escape the deadly heat.
Extreme heat is a health risk. Heat-related illness includes heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat rash and muscle cramps. Other heat-related symptoms include dizziness, nausea, fainting, headache, rapid breathing and heartbeat, and extreme thirst.
Although heat-related illness is preventable, extreme heat contributes to an average of 120 premature deaths every summer in Toronto. People experiencing homelessness are especially at risk.
Summers can be deadly for the homeless. Here is how you can help:
1. One call can save a life
Heat stroke is a medical emergency and requires urgent medical attention.
Call 911 if you see someone who is either unconscious, confused or has stopped sweating. While you are waiting for help, try to lower their temperature by moving them to a cool place or applying cold water to large areas of their skin or clothing.
2. Give out a bottle of water
Water is essential to prevent dehydration on very hot days. In fact, dehydration is a major threat to homeless people on the streets – and water is a lifesaver to those who can’t find any.
Have a chilled water bottle on hand, and pass it on to someone you might see on the street. Please practice social distancing.
3. Give basic items to survive the heat
Often, people who are homeless don’t have the basic items needed to survive the heat! If you feel safe and comfortable doing so, you can donate directly to people on the streets or donate to a charity. The most needed items are: sunscreen, water bottle, nutrition bar, sunglasses, hat, hand held fan and sanitizing wet wipes.
4. Tell them about a cool space where they can go
The best way to deal with the heat is to stay out of it. We invite all homeless community members to visit any of our Drop-In centres, shelters and Respite Centre to escape the heat. Our sites offer relief from the heat, access to water, a light snack, and trained staff on-site.
Tell the person about the closest space nearby and provide directions to get there.
5. Connect them directly to a charity
If you see someone sleeping on the street during a heat alert, and you feel safe doing so, ask if they are okay and have a place to go. In Toronto, the Streets to Homes Program provides street outreach services to help people who are sleeping outdoors by addressing their immediate health and safety needs.
Fred Victor’s Multi-Disciplinary Outreach Team travel in a health services van to comb the City’s outdoor areas where people may be living rough, as well as to indoor locations where people with severe mental health and addiction concerns may need immediate care.
If you or someone you know needs street outreach, call 311.
6. Donate money to a charity
Make a financial donation to an organization that helps people who are homeless. Financial donations allow charities to act fast and respond to people’s needs more efficiently.
Donations to Fred Victor ensure that we can continue to provide support to homeless people all year round and through the most difficult weather conditions.
Every day, more than 2,000 people use our programs and services – and we are responsive to the unique needs of each and every person who comes through our doors.
Beyond helping people who require immediate assistance, Fred Victor is developing long-term solutions that move individuals and families off the streets and into stable housing.
7. Spread the word
Share this article widely with your family and friends. We can all help people in need.
It is our responsibility to help our neighbours during hot weather months and make sure that the homeless community is okay.
At Fred Victor, we are big believers that we are in this together and that is the only way to help people who are homeless.
This summer, let’s try to make sure no one dies because of the heat.