Homelessness is challenging in every season! Frigid winter nights always spark concern over the health and safety of people experiencing homelessness; however, long days of summer are more dangerous.
The National Weather Service reports that severe heat is the number one deadliest form of extreme weather, killing over two times as many Americans as almost any other extreme weather event, and almost five times as many Americans as extreme cold. When people are exposed for prolonged periods, heat can have less lethal but still serious effects, such as heat exhaustion, heat stroke, skin burns, dehydration, and hallucinations.
“Most of us know how oppressive the Texas sun is at this time of year, covering us in sweat in the brief moments it takes to get to our air-conditioned car from our air-conditioned office,” said Dustin Perkins, Director of Client Services at Austin Street Center. “It’s so hot that you could literally bake cookies on your car’s dashboard!”
In addition to facing the uncertainty and stigma of homelessness, many clients also experience compounding effects of mental illness, substance abuse, or physical health complications. All these factors combined with excessive heat makes life more challenging, with the disturbance in clients’ mood as one of the most common visible side effects. Violent incidents and threats between clients tend to increase in the summer months, which is why Austin Street Center includes extreme heat in our inclement weather policies.
“We provide ice-cold water to anyone on the streets surrounding the shelter when the air temperature exceeds 90 degrees, and we open our doors early when the air temperature reaches 97 degrees or the heat index reaches 105 degrees,” said Robert Monroe, Director of Security at Austin Street Center. “Austin Street Center is the only shelter in Dallas that adjusts intake times for the summer heat.”
The summer heat also takes a toll on Austin Street Center’s operational resources, from increased utilities to a need for additional meals if an earlier intake occurs before lunch.
“While we always need bottled water, we also need blankets since we keep it nice and cool in the shelter for the clients,” said Sharmeene Hayes, Director of Operations at Austin Street Center.