It may be 'nice outside' — but it's too hot for the homeless
Family members of homeless people feel less inclined to help when the sun's out, says Downtown Mission
When family members of homeless people see their loved ones out in the extreme cold, compassion can encourage them to lend a helping hand.
"In the winter time, sometimes people will feel bad for their relative or their friend and let them stay at their place," said Ron Dunn, CEO of the Downtown Mission.
But according to Dunn, that compassion can disappear once hot, summer weather comes along — even though conditions are just as extreme.
"In the summertime, it's assumed, 'Oh, it's nice outside. They'll be okay.' But 40 degrees is pretty hot and a lot can happen."
Environment Canada has issued a heat warning for Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent. The weather authority is forecasting maximum daytime temperatures of 31 C, with the humidex making it feel like 40 C, until July 6.
According to Dunn, extended heat events don't change much of the Downtown Mission's operations since it's open 24 hours a day. But recently, the centre has made refrigerated fountain and bottle refill stations available so people can access cold water.
"It's just really about keeping an eye on each other and making sure that nobody is adversely affected in such horrible [conditions]; 40 degrees is pretty hot," said Dunn.
Although landlords across the province must provide proper heating for rented or leased dwellings, there are no such rules for cooling. That's why there is an uptick in the number of people who use the Downtown Mission to escape the heat.
"At nighttime, people do come to us who might not have generally because they have a home. But when it gets unbearable, then they come and seek shelter with us — and we encourage that," said Dunn.
At Street Help, some operational changes have to be made when it gets too hot for an extended period of time.
Besides making ice water available for patrons and volunteers to take home at their leisure, the centre also has to prepare food ahead of time so it can be reheated and served later.
"This way, we can keep the temperature down in the kitchen as well. It'd be very difficult for our volunteers to work in those conditions, and so we try to make it as pleasant and comfortable as possible for everybody," said Street Help administrator Christine Wilson-Furlonger.
Similarly to the Downtown Mission, Street Help also sees an increase of people who walk through its doors during prolonged heat events. Wilson-Furlonger said a lot of those people live in apartments on second or third-floors where there is little to no functioning air conditioning.
"It's much nicer to have a place close at hand to come in and be provided those comforts that they don't also have to worry about how to eat that day, about health, staying hydrated, none of those worries," she said.
"Because we are in a rather poor neighborhood, there are a lot of people that need that extra help."
She added her biggest worry is for the health and safety of people who can't access services offered by Street Help or other shelters — whether it's extremely hot and humid outside or it's bitterly cold.
For Wilson-Furlonger, those people are the most "at risk" of experiencing poor health events.
"Either time, we have to get extra people in to help us to accommodate all the folks that need us," she said.
"We also keep water in the car. If we see somebody and they look thirsty, we make sure to give them a bottle if we're out and about as well. But we can't be out driving all day too. We don't have the financial ability to do that."
If you see someone struggling to beat the heat, Wilson-Furlonger and Dunn suggest the following:
- Keep extra water bottles in your vehicle and share them with others.
- Inform people of public places which have air conditioning inside, including libraries.
- Check in with your neighbours and elderly friends and family to ensure they're staying hydrated.
- Buy extra cases of water and donate them to the Downtown Mission or Street Help.