How to Help Homeless People in a Heatwave

homeless people in a heatwave

Film director Rose Troche buys water to give to homeless people with Ktown for All outreach.

Your help is needed now more than ever

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s getting really hot out there.

Extreme high temperatures are sweeping throughout most of the United States and Canada.

If you’re someone who mostly just bounces between the air-conditioned house, car, and office, you may not have noticed very much. But I’ll tell you who did – the unsheltered people in your community without access to air-conditioned spaces for much of the day and night.

When a cold snap hits, people usually spring into action. Emergency shelters open up, warm coats are given out, and lots of people band together to help alleviate the effects of extreme weather on their unsheltered neighbors.

But what can we do when a heatwave comes?

The Dangers of a Heatwave

Extremely high temperatures coupled with high humidity isn’t just a recipe for a miserable day outdoors, it can be downright dangerous.

And when the temperatures don’t fall below 80 degrees, even at night, things become even more dangerous.

The human body needs a respite from the heat to give its systems time to cool down and stave off heat-related illnesses. If it doesn’t get that, things like heat stroke and heat exhaustion start to rapidly increase in vulnerable populations.

It may not be seen as a killer, but hot weather is statistically the deadliest form of extreme weather event in the United States, ranking high above hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods.

And unfortunately, these extreme heat events are only getting more frequent.

We need to prepare our communities to deal with heatwaves, just like we would for a hurricane, tornado, or flood. Knowing how to help homeless people in our communities through a heatwave is an important part of that preparation.

So, here are some things you can do to help homeless people in a heatwave:

Give Out Bottled Water

Dehydration can be deadly, and it happens faster than ever during a heatwave. People who are homeless often find themselves in a catch-22 during hot weather. They may need water, but if they have to walk a long way to get it, they could end up sweating and exhausting themselves faster than just staying put.

Put an end to that vicious cycle by supplying bottled water to anyone you can. If you have a way to keep it cold as you’re handing it out, that’s even better!

Supply Sun Protection

On even a regular summer day, the sun can be brutal. During a heatwave, it’s even worse. Not everyone will have the ability to stay indoors or in a shady spot all day. So sun protection items like sunscreen, sun hats, sunglasses, and even umbrellas can be extremely valuable.

These items all help prevent things like sunburn, sunstroke, and skin cancer, as well as keeping you a bit more comfortable during the day.

Bring On the Baby Wipes

Have you ever gone to the gym, worked up a good sweat, and not had time to shower afterward? You spend the rest of your day in a sweaty, smelly funk until you can finally rinse off, right?

Now imagine what it would be like to spend your day outside in the middle of a heatwave. Not the most comfortable.

Baby wipes can help people freshen up in between showers to keep them more comfortable. It may not last long, but the brief bit of respite is worth it to many. If you start offering baby wipes to people you meet on the street, you may be surprised by the positive reaction you get!

Hand Out Hand Fans

A small, handheld, battery-operated fan can do a pretty good job in keeping core body temperature down. It also helps to make the oppressive heat a bit more bearable.

Include a few extra batteries since they can run out quickly when you’re using the fan all day, every day!

Give Money

Even if you normally don’t, you may want to give money directly during extreme weather. Donations like these can help unsheltered people get a cheap motel room for the night. This offers them a chance to cool off, shower, and avoid some of the increased health risks of never getting out of the hot weather.

What might be a small sum to you could end up saving a life, so don’t stand on ceremony.

Pressure Your City to Open Up Emergency Shelters

Many areas, like Washington, D.C. are starting to adopt this policy, but if yours aren’t, start talking to your representatives! Emergency shelters should start opening up during extremely hot weather just like they do during extremely cold weather.

Shelters moving to 24/7 also helps keep people off the streets during the hottest part of the day, saving lives.

Pay Attention

During a heatwave, it’s even more important that you not ignore homeless people who seem to be in distress. If you see someone who seems to be unconscious, don’t assume they’re just sleeping or passed out drunk. They could be suffering from heat syncope.

When you see any person in the midst of an obvious health crisis, homeless or not, the best thing to do is to call 911.

If you need to brush up on who to call when a homeless person needs help, check out our article on just that subject over here.

Look Out for Each Other

When it comes to extreme heat, we’re all in this together. We can all get through a heatwave if we band together, look out for those in the most vulnerable communities (including the elderly, young children, and people who are homeless) and do whatever we can to help.

Things as simple as sunscreen and baby wipes can make a huge difference in the overall comfort and health of someone who’s stuck outside in a heatwave. Until we end homelessness for good, let’s all do what we can.

Kayla Robbins

Kayla Robbins


Kayla Robbins is a freelance writer who works with big-hearted brands and businesses. When she's not working, she enjoys knitting socks, rolling d20s, and binging episodes of The Great British Bake Off.

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