When I started my PULSE assignment at the beginning of July the temperature had been in the nineties for days and was going to stay that way for weeks. Like many people, I used a combination of air conditioning, swimming and drinking lots of water to survive the heat. While I have always known that having access to these things is a luxury, talking with some clients at Prevention Point Philadelphia (PPP) gave me new insight into how difficult it is for homeless people to find relief in a heat wave.
When the weather gets extremely hot we all get the same heat advisory, “Drink plenty of water, stay in an air-conditioned room whenever possible and avoid strenuous outdoor activities.” When your homeless heeding these directions can be a challenge:
Drink Plenty of Water
With no access to clean water and no money – staying hydrated can be tough. I always thought that people just went to a local food program or that the city gave out water during heat waves. However, the reality is that the majority of food and city sponsored programs are overextended during the summer months and can’t fulfill the daily demand for water or food.
Stay In Air Conditioned Room
Not even hot weather is enough for homeless people to be welcome in the majority of places in Philadelphia. In fact, some of the clients told me that in many cases it is harder to hang around air-conditioned public spaces (where all should be welcome) when the weather is bad because they become so crowded. The “cool zones”, city sponsored sites that offer air conditioning and water, are often hard to access without public transportation and quickly fill up.
Avoid Strenuous Activity
It is hard to avoid strenuous activity when the only way of getting around town is to walk. Clients talked a lot about how walking in the heat (especially if they are carrying lots of bags) causes foot problems, sun burns and dehydration. Many clients noted that they had to walk far to get to social and health services.
As I worked at the front desk at PPP, I saw how simple services like cold water to drink and couches to relax on (while taking in the air conditioning) are such a huge comfort to people who are unwelcomed in other places. It was also great to see the relief on people’s faces after getting medical attention for sunburns, blisters and wounds. I am so impressed with PPP for providing a space for the cities under-served populations to beat the heat.
How have you beat the heat this summer?