Heat Wave and the Homeless

Recently we’ve been feeling a little concerned about one of Michael’s friends, who we’ll call Adam.

For the last few months Michael has been spending time each morning with Adam, and sometimes eats breakfast with him. They talk about the city, what they did over the weekend – normal stuff. Adam happens to be homeless, so Michael gets a unique perspective from him on DC life.

A few days ago Adam stopped showing up in his usual spot. Since he doesn’t carry a cell phone or have an email or mailing address, the only way Michael knows how to get in touch with him was through his shelter. Problem is, after so many conversations about other things, he either never heard or can’t remember what shelter Adam normally stays in overnight.

He does know the neighborhood in which the shelter is located – and since there’s only so many homeless shelters in any city, he’s hoping that will work to help him locate Adam. He’s going to wait a couple of days, and if he still doesn’t see his friend, he’ll call around.

DC has been through a heat wave lately, which means there are a few possibilities for where Adam might be:

  • He might be inside. Since shelters often close during the day, and it’s been so hot outside, homeless advocates have been encouraging people to spend time in malls, libraries, cooling centers, or anywhere else public and air conditioned.
  • He might be hurt by the heat. Already a few homeless people in Baltimore have died because of the heat wave. Summer is a very dangerous time not to have shelter.
  • He might be sick. He’s been sick and injured before and unable to sit in the park because he was getting treatment.

We’re going to hope and pray Adam is fine, but while we wait to find out if everything is okay with him, there are two things we (and you!) can do to help homeless people during the hottest part of the year:

#1 Try to practice patience and empathy if a homeless person uses the public restroom for too long or sits in your coffee shop to keep cool.

It may sound easy to be patient in a situation like that – and if it is for you, that’s great – but I struggle with it sometimes. It always bothered me in NYC when I needed to use the restroom but couldn’t because someone had seemingly camped out in there. And recently in Adams Morgan I became annoyed by a man who had sat near my group in a coffee shop because it was hard to concentrate due to the smell. It sounds terrible, I know, but if you’re like me, the heat makes you even more selfish and easily frustrated. Instead of becoming hardhearted to the people most in need this summer, buy him or her an icy drink.

#2 Be aware of your city’s cooling centers, especially if you work in an area with a lot of homeless people nearby.

You can find out where the centers are either by looking online or contacting your local emergency management office. DC’s cooling centers offer a hotline to call [(202) 399-7093] and a shuttle service for people who are seriously at-risk on the hottest days.

Oh, and one more piece of advice: if you have friends who depend on shelters, know for sure which shelters they use…

Happy summer!

Photo by Adrian van Leen

6 Responses to “Heat Wave and the Homeless”
  1. ann says:

    Joanna, because I’m a teacher, I’m free during these hot summer months and am often
    driving around sweltering Memphis mid-day. I’ll be sure to keep a fresh bottle of water, well maybe a Gatorade, for sharing at the stop lights on these hot 100 degree days. Seems like such a small thing, but maybe it will help. I pray Michael finds Adam.

  2. You make some good points here Joanna. There is a lot of emphasis put on the dangers of cold temperatures to the homeless, but the hot temperatures can be equally dangerous.

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