Big Issue Vendor

How can I help homeless people during a UK heatwave?

With temperatures set to hit a record high, people sleeping on the streets are at risk of dehydration and sunstroke. Here's how you can help.
The Met Office issued its first ever extreme heat warning this week. Image: Chris JL/Flickr

The nation is sweating through a UK heatwave, with the Met Office issuing its first ever extreme heat warning for parts of the country.

While it’s widely understood that low temperatures in winter put the wellbeing of people experiencing homelessness at risk, it’s also true that particularly warm summers — which we can expect more of as the climate crisis worsens — can be harmful for people sleeping rough.

They’re faced with a battle to find cool spots to shelter in, cold drinking water and places to shower off, while being at higher risk of sunburn, dehydration and heatstroke.

Here are some tips for those unsure how to help someone sleeping rough in high temperatures.

Donate some sun cream 

A simple way to help a disadvantaged person through the summer months is to give them a bottle of sun cream, whether it’s newly bought or a spare you had at home (as long as you haven’t had it for long – sunscreen can expire). 

Give out frozen water bottles

It can sometimes be tricky for people sleeping rough to locate good drinking water, and it becomes even more of a challenge in summer when they need to cool down and stay hydrated. If you plan to give away a bottle of water, stick it in the freezer the night before, so it will stay cold for longer and can also cool sticky foreheads. Even better, find out where your nearest water refill stations are and make sure the person has that information going forward.

If you give a person food, opt for ingredients which contain a lot of water such as juicy fruit or vegetables to help them stay hydrated.

Be generous with hats and sunglasses

It’s easy to underestimate the health-saving impact of sunhats and shades during the summer if we need only reach into a wardrobe to fish some out. But they can make a real difference in fending off sun and heatstroke, particularly to people who might not be able to escape the hot sun in a UK heatwave. 

Donate a fan

A handheld fan can be a gamechanger for someone who can’t head indoors out of the sun or into air-conditioned buildings. Umbrellas can offer a person shade if they have nowhere else to go, too. 

Contact the local support team

If you see someone in need of medical attention in hot weather, don’t hesitate to call 999 to get them the help they need.

Other expert organisations can offer support to those left without a home, including Streetlink — who will be sure to put you in touch with your local frontline services — Centrepoint, St Mungos, Crisis, Shelter and more.

Hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of losing their homes right now. One UK household is being made homeless every three-and-a-half hours.

You can help stop a potential avalanche of homelessness by joining The Big Issue’s Stop Mass Homelessness campaign. Here’s how: