Heatwave Holds Many Dangers for Homeless

Temperatures have hit astounding highs in the Forest City over the last several days.  The constant and familiar hum of the air conditioning unit can be heard throughout the breezeless sky.  With air so thick it’s an effort just to reach our arms above our heads, we readily reach for a bottle of water, a cold cloth to run along the back of the neck, a hat and a generous bottle of sunscreen.

Imagine for a moment, if it were next to impossible to secure those small measures of comfort to get you through the hottest day.  If you were homeless, where would you go for a drink of water, a cold cloth and some sunscreen?  Unfortunately, for the individuals living and surviving on our city streets, the summer months can be the toughest of all. 

Community Mental Health Programs (CMHP), a branch of Mission Services of London is committed to helping those individuals who cannot or will not come into a shelter and have been identified as having a mental illness and/or addiction. “Most people think the summer would be much easier than the wintertime for those who are homeless,” says Doug Nemeth, Program Coordinator at Community Mental Health Programs. “It’s been our experience that people tend to find a place to be for the winter – a friend’s couch, a shelter, anyplace.  But, in the summer, people seem to think they are perfectly safe being out of doors.” According to Nemeth, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.  The dangers that exist on a hot sunny day are far more invisible and harder to predict until we find ourselves immersed in them.  It’s freezing cold outside?  Everyone knows it’s best to put on a warmer jacket.  When it’s over 30 degrees in the shade, we don’t always drink enough water or get enough rest.  Many of the individuals who are not in shelter and spend their days and nights on the street are susceptible to terrible sunburns, heat stroke and severe dehydration.  “We come across many people who due to a mental illness are taking medication which causes photosensitivity and dehydration.  A combination of this prescribed medication and a day in the hot sun can have disastrous results.

One of CMHPs programs, Streetscape, is an emergency case management service providing outreach to those on the streets.  The staff spend part of their day seeking out those who may need water and a place to cool down.  “The Streetscape team of outreach workers will bring water with them and rouse those who have fallen asleep in the burning sun,” says Nemeth.  “We’ll take them to one of the city’s cooling centres or to the library or even the foyer of the mall just for a few minutes of relief.”

The Gathering Place is a drop-in centre operated by CMHP.   The centre is open each day of the week but only from 7 am to 11 am.  “Many will drop in for a rest and a drink of water.” says Nemeth.  “But, the centre is closed during the hottest part of the day.  This is a very difficult time for our homeless community.”

When asked how Londoners can lend a hand during this heat wave, Doug Nemeth responds with one simple word: water.  “You can pick up a case of bottled water for a few dollars,” he explains.  “We are constantly handing it out and then filling up those empty bottles again and again.  Bottled water is definitely a need.”

As we pack for a day at the beach, doing last minute checks for drinks, snacks, cover-ups, hats and sunglasses, consider how fortunate we are to find relief on these scorching days.

 For more information on how you can donate water to CMHP
call: 519 433 2807 Extension 115

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