10 things you can do during summer heat waves to save a homeless person’s life

It’s getting hot out there.  For many of us it’s easy to find a cool place, whether work or home, that has air conditioning. Or go to a restaurant, drive in an air conditioned car, go to the mall, etc. People experiencing homelessness do not have those luxuries. In fact, their very survival is at stake.

People who are homeless can be particularly vulnerable to heat waves because they cannot easily stay cool or stay hydrated. Some living on the streets might have medical or substance issues that prevent them from thinking clearly and are in need of extra assistance.  Add this to heat and dehydration and you have a lethal combination. Moreover, heat waves are often not perceived as being as dangerous as cold weather.

People living on the street or in their car can take advantage of cooler air in public buildings such as Pierce County libraries, Tacoma Libraries and other public places, however going in to cool off at a local restaurant, coffee shop or movie theater, costs money they don’t have.

Here are ten things you can purchase and carry with you to hand out to people living on the street or in their car during the heat wave:

  • Frozen bottled water. Try to freeze (not just chill) bottled water before handing it out. The ice will melt slowly for drinking, but can also be used for general cooling. Freezing the bottles will provide a cold source that people can hold to their heads or necks or between their wrists.  “Enhanced” water that has electrolytes added to it is especially beneficial to help replace needs nutrients.
  • Water bottles. Consider handing out reusable, durable water bottles that can be refilled from public water sources.
  • Sunglasses. To be effective, Prevent Blindness America says glasses should block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays.
  • Hats. Baseball hats, straw hats, anything-with-a-brim hats. This keeps the sun off the face and out of the eyes.
  • Umbrellas. They will help keep the sun from directly beating down on a person on the street. 
  • Bandanas. Dipped in water and draped around the neck or head, these can bring down temperatures significantly. When dipped in cold water, the cooling bandana will provide long-term relief and can be reused again and again.
  • Sunscreen. Great idea, but don’t give away that bottle you barely used last year. Sunscreen’s protective ingredients expire after 12 months. Don’t be cheap. Buy new bottles. The average adult needs about a shot glass worth of sunscreen per day in the sun to stay totally protected.
  • Zinc oxide ointment. This will keep lips and noses from burning and is much easier to carry and apply than sunscreen.
  • Bus passes. People in need can ride an air conditioned bus to help stay cool.
  • Fast food cards. Where people in need can go in and purchase a meal and sit for a time in a cool place.  If they do not purchase food, some establishments will ask them to leave. By enabling them to make a purchase you are helping not only feed them, but keep them cool too.   

As the temperatures begin to climb throughout Pierce County, the Department of Emergency Management reminds everyone to stay out of the heat as much as possible, stay hydrated, and check on elderly relatives and neighbors when temperatures soar.  They also recommend checking on those with chronic health concerns as they might be more susceptible to heat related illnesses. 

Those with low or fixed incomes are also at risk. Many of them are forced to choose between eating or turning on their air conditioner. Food often wins out and in extreme heat a fan is simply not enough to keep someone cool.

Do not leave children or pets in cars unattended – temperatures can quickly become deadly.  Take advantage of cooler air in public buildings such as Pierce County libraries, Tacoma Libraries, local malls, movie theaters, and other large stores.  People seeking relief from the heat by swimming in rivers risk cold shock and possibly drowning. 

 Exercise extreme caution and make sure to take care of one another.

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