UK heatwave: How to help the homeless in extreme heat

·4-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

An intense heatwave is currently sweeping over the UK, with temperatures so high that the Met Office has issued an amber extreme heat alert.

Temperatures already exceeded 30C across much of England on Monday 12 July and Wales saw its hottest day of the year so far.

The Met Office warns that it could get even hotter as the week goes on, with temperatures forecast to hit 35C in the south east of the country on Sunday 17 July.

The UK Health and Security Agency has warned that the extreme heat could result in “illness and death” even among those who aren’t vulnerable.

Rough sleepers are particularly vulnerable during heatwaves without shelter to protect them from the soaring temperatures.

Follow live updates on the heatwave

Here’s how you can help the homeless during the heatwave:

What happens to the homeless in extreme weather?

Exposure to hotter than average conditions can result in a slew of health issues, including heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and hyperthermia.

Petra Salva, director of rough sleeping at St Mungo’s charity, told BBC Radio London: “We are very concerned about people who are already impacted with poor health from living on the streets and people who, with this sort of exposure, can get worse.

“It can cause really, really extreme effects… I walk past people who are lying in the sun, maybe don’t have access to water, don’t have access to shade, and are not thinking about those health impacts.

“I’m sure you’ve seen people sitting outside on the streets of London and who fall asleep. Now, that’s really, really dangerous, falling asleep in the sun, especially in this sort of heat. The exposure to heatstroke is incredibly high.”

A spokesperson for Crisis told The Independent: “Being homeless during a heatwave can be extremely stressful and bad for people’s health as it can be challenging to find shelter away from the heat. People living on the street during hot weather are at greater risk of sunburn, dehydration and heat exhaustion. “

What should I do if I see a homeless person during the heatwave?

Salva urged Britons to be “vigilant” if they see someone sleeping rough in extreme temperatures.

“If you see someone in distress and you’re concerned about their health, pay attention and call 999 if you think they are at risk in terms of health,” she said.

The Big Issue, which helps homeless to earn an income through selling the magazine, also recommended donating sunscreen, sunglasses and hats, as well as handing out frozen water bottles to protect rough sleepers and keep them cool.

Offering them an umbrella for essential shade is also a great way to help the homeless stay out of the sun.

Homeless charity Shelter adds: “Check they’re happy to accept the items first, and sanitise where necessary to ensure the items are Covid-safe.”

Is there anyone I can call to help a homeless person during the heatwave?

Shelter says that one of the best ways to help someone sleeping rough is to ask them if they’d like you to contact StreetLink.

StreetLink will help connect homeless people to local outreach services to help them get out of the heat.

You can also direct them to Homeless Link, which has plenty of practical support available, such as the addresses of hostels and nearby day centres that can provide a rough sleeper with food, drink, and other essentials.

A spokesperson for Crisis added: “The main priority for people experiencing homelessness during a heatwave should be to get protection as they may not have proper shelter or covering to protect them from the full heat of the sun.

“We are calling for local authorities to trigger their arrangements to offer emergency shelter to ensure the health of people sleeping rough in their areas is safeguarded during hot weather like we are experiencing at the moment.”

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