Summer. For so many of us, it truly is a golden season. A time for vacations. A time to spend wonderfully lazy, relaxing afternoons with friends and family on the beach or at the lake.
But for those experiencing homelessness, summer can be a time of true misery. The bitter cold of winter is often when society steps in to assist those experiencing homelessness because the season presents its own brutal threats. However, the sizzling heat and stifling humidity of summer create immense suffering as well.
Below are some of the health dangers those experiencing homelessness often experience during the summer:
- Dehydration. With limited options for shelter from the summer sun and potentially limited access to water, those experiencing homelessness are especially vulnerable to becoming dehydrated, which can be characterized by fatigue, dizziness and confusion.
- Respiratory distress. Heat often triggers air pollution in many major cities. And that air pollution can exacerbate a person’s existing asthma or emphysema. Breathing in all of that polluted air can also raise someone’s risk of developing asthma, cardiovascular disease and lung cancer, among other health problems.
- Heat exhaustion and stroke. Being out in the sun for long periods of time can lead to heat exhaustion, whose symptoms include cramps, general weakness, heavy sweating, nausea and clammy skin. A heat stroke is similar but is considered more serious. It occurs when someone’s body temperature gets above 103 degrees Fahrenheit.
So how can we mitigate the suffering of our friends struggling through homelessness during the summer?
For starters, donate needed supplies to homeless shelters. Items like bottled water, sunscreen, bug spray, hats and visors are always in demand and welcome. Additionally, don’t be afraid to interact with those experiencing homelessness and give them these items directly.
On a bigger-picture, longer-term level, it’s important to reduce homelessness so that there are fewer people left to suffer during the summer months. For that to happen, it’s important that the private sector play a major role in this issue. Private businesses can help by hiring ready-to-work homeless individuals – of which there are thousands upon thousands – and also by helping them find places to live.
The majority of our country’s homeless are situationally homeless, meaning they are experiencing homelessness due to a life-altering event such as the loss of a job, a medical or health emergency, a divorce, a natural disaster, domestic abuse or the loss of a primary income earner. These are people who have consistent work history, have marketable skills, who want to work and return to a life of self-sufficiency but rarely receive the necessary governmental support services, which tend to focus on the chronically homeless.
Summer is here, and that means great times for so many of us. But don’t forget about the most vulnerable in our community during these months. Their need for our helping hands is as strong as ever.