As the temperatures soared over the past two days, community organizations and volunteers were out on the streets distributing water, freezies and sunscreen to Kingston’s homeless population.
People without suitable housing are at a high risk of illness during extreme heat events, even as community services provided walk-in cooling centres and distributed water. Earlier this week, community volunteers reported that people who are homeless or unsuitably housed in Kingston were experiencing extreme sunburn and symptoms of heat stroke, something they fear will get worse as the summer continues.
Extreme heat puts homeless residents at risk
“(On Monday) I was providing care to a lady who was a senior, and she had sunburn and was sitting out in the sun (outside the Integrated Care Hub). I was providing her with cold drinks and support and was quite worried about heat exhaustion with her,” Chrystal Wilson, a community volunteer, said in an interview with the Whig-Standard. “I think the people that we support are very resilient and do their best to find solutions, but they are suffering in the heat for sure,”
While Kingston Frontenac Public Library’s Central Branch offers a drop-in cooling centre to alleviate the physical stress of constant heat, Wilson said these environments can be uncomfortable and stigmatizing for people who are unhoused.
“I think the library does a good job of trying not to stigmatize, it’s just that walking into a place when you haven’t had a shower, and your option is to sit in a hard chair, and you’re tired but can’t fall asleep, and probably want to lay on the floor — it’s not ideal for friends without homes,” she said.
Kingston’s Integrated Care Hub also saw a spike in users throughout the heat wave, a trend hub co-ordinator Stephanie Bate said is consistent with other extreme weather events.
“Any time that there’s any sort of extreme weather, we see a lot more people accessing our services. People who might normally be sleeping rough or camping on their own just can’t do that in 35-degree, plus humidity, weather,” Bate said in an interview with the Whig-Standard.
Over the past few days, Bate said she has seen people with symptoms consistent with heat stroke, dehydration and severe sunburn.
For people without homes, the impact of heat waves is compounded by other social and economic barriers. Costs for items such as sunscreen, weather-appropriate clothing and storage can be prohibitive for people with precarious housing, rendering them more vulnerable to the health risks of extreme heat.
“Sunscreen is very expensive and people can’t afford to buy that, so unfortunately they can get quite burned, sometimes to the extent of extreme blistering,” Bate said.
She explained that people in Kingston have also been struggling to acquire weather-appropriate clothing as donation centres have only recently reopened, and donations of summery items are generally less common to begin with.
“People have been in jeans, sweaters. They don’t have access to shorts, sandals, light T-shirts and things like that to help keep themselves cool,” she said.
Furthermore, many people sleeping rough or camping in the community have nowhere to store their items and must keep them with them at all times.
“They can’t necessarily leave their things anywhere safe, so they need to have them on them all the time, and it still gets kind of cool at night, so it’s not like those things can be put in longer-term storage because they still need access to them,” Bate said.
Further compounding risks of extreme heat for people who are experiencing homelessness is drug use, which can exacerbate the symptoms of heat exhaustion or lead to secondary issues.
“When you’re using substances, you’re just going to have more severe side effects. People who are using methamphetamine and crystal meth are more at risk of heat stroke usually. People who are very dehydrated, it’s very hard to inject substances and you’re more prone to needle injuries and stuff like that,” Bate explained.
In order to address these heightened risks for precariously housed people, especially as extreme weather events increase as a consequence of climate change, organizations like the Integrated Care Hub are planning ahead. The hub has a hose set up for people to cool down, it is collecting water bottles, electrolyte drinks, freezies and sunscreen to distribute, and it is providing an air conditioned space for its residents.
Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Public Health’s acting medical officer of health, Dr. Hugh Guan, is encouraging people to look for symptoms of heat stroke such as dizziness, light-headedness and swelling in the legs, or severe symptoms such as seizures.
“What people can do to prevent heat-related illness is to stay in the shade, cool down at cooling centres. We do have a list of cooling centres on our website. Drink lots of water and also just monitor for these symptoms,” Guan said in a media call.
Original Article: https://www.thewhig.com/news/extreme-heat-puts-homeless-residents-at-risk