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Posts Tagged ‘Hypothermia’

5 Tips for Winter Planning

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness

by Megan Hustings

In DC, we’re trying to squeeze the last days of warmth and sunshine out of the summer, and the last thing we want to think about is the temperature dropping more.  But winter is on its way.  Did you know that hypothermia, a life-threatening condition due to body temperature falling below 95 degrees, can occur when the outside temperature is as high as 50 degrees?  Wet clothes or socks can exacerbate already difficult weather conditions to make the risk of hypothermia greater.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors has reported for years that the number of requests for shelter beds far outweighs the actual number of emergency shelter beds available, and this is especially the case during periods of cold weather when it is just not healthy to remain outdoors.

Cities around the country are finalizing plans to provide warming centers and additional beds in emergency shelters when temperatures drop this winter.

It is never too late, or too early, to plan how your community can help those who do not have a warm place to call home this winter.  From out report on Winter Services , here are 5 things to be sure to include while you are planning for this winter.

5 Tips for Winter Services Planning:

  1. Increased Outreach – Talk to people who stay on the street to help you locate camps and common sleeping areas.
  2. Stock up on Blankets and Warm Clothing – Wet clothing will not keep anyone warm and can lead to greater risk of illness.
  3. Emergency Transportation – Does your city have vans or shuttles available to transport people to shelters that may be across town?
  4. Day Centers – Make sure there is somewhere people can go, at least when the temperature falls below 40 degrees F.
  5. Low Barrier Nighttime Shelter – Any past bans or other restrictions should be waived on nights when the temperature is lower than 40 degrees F.  If needed, people who are violent or under the influence can be separated, so long as they can remain warm.

Response to Homelessness: Hot or Cold?

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness

In January, NCH released a report on Winter Services that detailed extended shelter hours and other services that work to decrease the risk of hypothermia deaths among people who are homeless. Hypothermia refers to the life-threatening conditions that can occur when a person’s core temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

HypERthermia is just the opposite referring to a myriad of conditions that can occur as a result of a person absorbing or producing more heat that the body can dissipate. Just as with hypothermia, people most at risk of hyperthermia are the young and elderly, those who have persistent medical conditions, and those exposed to extreme environmental conditions.

NCH’s Winter Services report found that 700 people experiencing or at-risk of homelessness are killed from hypothermia annually in the United States. A similar report from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that looked at data from 1999 to 2003 found that on average 688 deaths each year were due to hyperthermia. While the CDC report does not mention the housing status of those who passed away due to heat-related illnesses, we can relate the risks to people who are homeless (my comments in italics) to the CDC’s recommendations for preventing hyperthermia:

Suggestion #1: Drink more fluids, regardless of your activity level.

Many people who are homeless do not have ready access to water. Restaurants will charge, soup kitchens may only be open at certain times during the day, there are fewer and fewer publicly accessible water fountains, can you imagine not having a refrigerator full of cold water or even a sink for tap water?

Suggestion #2: Don’t drink liquids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar.

Sodas can be cheaper than bottled water! People who are suffering from alcohol dependence are at particular risk for temperature-related illness.

Suggestion #3: Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library.

There are few day centers available for people experiencing homelessness, and often, people who “look” homeless (have lots of bags or who have not been able to shower or do laundry) are turned away from establishments like libraries and restaurants.

Suggestion #4: Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, taking a cool shower or bath, or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off.

Electric fans (anything other than a small battery-operating or hand fan), taking a shower or air-conditioning are simply not options when you have no home.

Suggestion #5: Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

Type of clothing is often not an option when you cannot pay for appropriate pieces or do not have somewhere secure to store clothing.

Some communities have stepped up efforts to prevent the risk of hyperthermia among people experiencing homelessness: the Arizona Department of Health Services published a guide on where to find cooling centers; a Columbia, South Carolina shelter has extended weekend hours to provide a cool refuge during the hot summer months; and DC opens cooling centers and emergency shower locations (though I’ve only heard from a couple of people who know about these).

But it seems that the level of response to heat emergencies is not matched even to the number of cold-weather emergency services available to people who are experiencing homelessness. Are we wrong about this? Does your community (homeless services or health departments) have cooling centers or make other extra efforts to ensure the homeless population has refuge from the summer heat? Let us know!

Other resources:
Change.org Post May 30, 2010 – How to Help the Homeless Beat the Heat
Health Care for the Homeless Council Hyperthermia factsheet

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