Friday, June 21, 2013

How We Help the Homeless in a Heat Wave

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A cold bottle of water is an easy way to help someone.
When the mercury rises, the weather turns dangerous for some of our most vulnerable neighbors: the homeless, whom we often see sitting outside, wrapped in blankets or heavy clothing, even on DC’s hottest afternoons.

“Certain populations are particularly at risk in these conditions,” said George Jones, a manager at Catholic Charities’ shelters. “People who are 65 years of age and older, people who are overweight, people who are ill and/or are under certain medications – many of our clients fall in these groups, which heightens the danger of heat stroke and hyperthermia when the temperatures climb.”

Know the number to call for help: 1-800-535-7252
When the heat index reaches 95 degrees, DC city government activates its Heat Emergency Plan, which allows cooling centers and shelters across the city to open their doors so people who are homeless can get out of the sweltering air.

The city also has four vans canvassing areas throughout the District on alert for people who need transportation to a cooling center. If you see someone who seems to be suffering from heat-related stress, contact the hotline at 1-800-535-7252 to report the location of the person in need. We recommend saving this number to your cell phone for easy access. “If the person is really suffering, or passed out, just call that number for help,” George said. “Otherwise, you can just ask if they want you to call for a ride to a cooling center.”

Cardinal Wuerl greets clients at our Dinner Program,
held on G Street each Wednesday evening.
Some people, even though suffering from the heat, may choose not to go to a cooling center, for various reasons. In this case, the next best thing you can do is offer them something cold to drink. Bottled water is good – be sure to avoid drinks with caffeine and lots of sugar, as they can cause the body to lose fluid. You might also encourage them to go to a library or other public, air-conditioned space.

These are small acts of dignity and kindness that go far in helping our neighbors who may be suffering silently or unable to help themselves. You can also make a donation to support our housing programs, which provide 1,600 beds each and every night to men, women and children in need as well as a path forward out of homelessness.