As much as many people eagerly await Summer, these sweltering days can pose a very real and unwelcome threat to our homeless neighbors. Every year, we see heat-related illnesses and accidents that could have been avoided. So we spoke to Dr. Coley King, D.O., Director of Homeless Services at the Venice Family Clinic, for his thoughts on ways we can all help our homeless neighbors during the hot summer months.
What can people donate to homeless service organizations that will help during hot summer months?
In addition to water, fans, and t-shirts, electrolyte tablets (like those made by Nuun) are a great addition because you can add them to water. They have a nice combination of sodium and potassium without a lot of sugar. Sugary sports drinks are ok, and more helpful than pure water for this purpose, but we don’t really need to push more simple carbs on this population.
What warning signs of heat-related illness should people look for in their homeless neighbors and where can those be reported?
It’s important to pay attention to appearance. Pre-heat stroke patients may look really red and may actually stop sweating. I’ve even seen them have goose bumps. The patient will have a rapid heart rate of over 100 beats per minute. (Count a wrist pulse for 6 seconds and multiply by 10).
If it’s hot out and someone looks "bad" then get them to sit in front of a fan and watch them drink a liter of fluids. Sips don't count, finishing a bottle does. Again, I like fluids with electrolytes. If they still look bad, then call 911.
Do you have any stories related to someone with a heat-related illness that you’d be willing to share?
There are a few common dehydration issues that we see year after year. For instance, elderly males with prostate issues who don’t want to drink water, or patients on diuretics with no access to restrooms. One of my patients was a newly-housed fellow who was over 65 and had to take multiple buses to come in for services. He had an enlarged prostate and was hesitant to drink water before the bus ride. On three occasions he passed out and fell, causing bumps to the head and ER visits. It took a lot of encouraging and education to get him to improve his habits.