As the UK cooks in unprecedented temperatures, news sites are full of tips on how to stay safe. Most of it is what I will reluctantly refer to as common sense: drink plenty of water, keep out of the midday sun and stay indoors. But what if you are street homeless?
Nobody is more vulnerable to extreme temperatures than people forced to live on the streets. Of course, it’s usually winter cold snaps that awaken our compassion, as we walk past people shivering in doorways. But as climate scientists today warned, the UK is no longer a cold country – and unless we prepare for more of these extreme heatwaves, thousands of excess deaths will follow. And as with extreme cold, homeless people are much more vulnerable to extreme heat.
Why? For starters, most people living on the streets have substance dependency issues – if you see someone in a sleeping bag in a doorway today, the likelihood is that they are not just catching 40 winks. Blacking out under a sleeping bag in direct sunlight is not a good idea for anyone, but it’s much worse if you’re on drugs or have been drinking. Dehydration and heatstroke are possibilities, as is severe sunburn and, in the long-term, skin cancer.
Charities and councils are attempting to get people off the streets and out of the heat, handing out sunscreen and water. Some authorities have triggered the severe weather emergency protocol, usually enacted during winter to get rough sleepers out of the cold and into emergency shelter. However, homeless organisations don’t possess an all-seeing eye. That’s where you come in.
If you see someone at risk on the street, there are things you can do for them. If they’re exposed to direct sunlight, guide them towards the shade. Offer them water, food or sunscreen. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, then contact Street Link – in fact, do that anyway. Street Link enables the public to connect rough sleepers with local services that can help them into temporary accommodation. Give them a call or download their app. And if it’s an emergency, dial 999.
Of course none, or very little, of this would be necessary if homeless provision in this country was anywhere near adequate. I state this in almost every piece (and the book) I have written on this topic but let me reiterate: this problem does not go away without long-term investment in genuinely affordable social housing, local authorities and the health service.
The Conservative party will soon anoint a new leader and our prime minister, which might trigger a snap election. If that is the case, we can achieve the first step towards doing the right thing by kicking the party that oversaw homeless deaths rise by 80% in the period between 2019 and 2021 out of Downing Street. For now, keep your eyes peeled and the Street Link app open.
July 19, 2022 at 08:23PM Daniel Lavelle