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Meet the heatwave heroes making sure those in need get support as temperatures soar

The closures of libraries and public toilets mean those in need are finding it harder and harder to get by in the heat.

The hot weather has us all struggling to cope. But for some, the struggle goes beyond trying to lie still while sending emails.

For those in need, the hot weather can pose real dangers. The poorest suffer the most during heatwaves. But growing barriers such as closures of public toilets and libraries, as well as meagre budgets, mean many are relying on volunteers

Here are the people helping others survive – and what they think needs to change.

‘The public services just aren’t there any more – it’s been left to the voluntary sector to sweep up the problems’

Jon Glackin founded Streets Kitchen, a grassroots initiative providing food and support to homeless people. He points out that more people experiencing homelessness die in the hot weather than in the cold.

Streets Kitchen’s solidarity hub in north London. Image: Jon Glackin

In Seven Sisters Road, north London, Streets Kitchen has a Solidarity Hub, open from 11 in the morning until early in the evening. It offers a place to cool down, ice cream, a shower, a cold drink, and some advice.

A lot of people who come to the hub are wearing warm clothes, even in the stifling heat, purely for a lack of alternatives. Glackin fears for the heat yet to come – with next week predicted to bring record temperatures.

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He notes two particular challenges for the homeless during a summer heatwave – a lack of public services and a lack of available accommodation.

“A lot of public toilets are closed now. It’s very hard to even access water. There isn’t places for people to get a wash or get a bit of water to cool down,” he says.

Libraries Glackin has spoken to are keen to help in the hot weather – but there’s ever fewer of them. “Libraries are being closed left right and centre,” he says. “The public services just aren’t there any more – it’s been left to the voluntary sector to sweep up the problems.”

On accommodation, he says the tourist season makes life difficult for people Streets Kitchen helps.

“A number of ours are having problems booking accommodation because during the summer is tourist season. Some forward planning would have been useful. We knew it was going to be hot.

‘It’s lives that we are trying to save’

During the heatwave, Michelle Clark has taken to telling off strangers.

“I am anxious,” she says. “Shouting at the public who are out with their dogs: ‘Get your dog home’!”

Clark runs Dogs on the Streets, and knows all too well how dangerous the hot weather can be for dogs. They can survive without a walk, she says, but not outside in the heat.

As she speaks, Clark has been driving around central London’s homeless hostels for six hours, handing out water and advice, with more to come.

“It is very challenging for the team,” she tells The Big Issue. “It’s lives that we are trying to save.”

Dogs can be vital companions for homeless people – but need looking after. As well as water, Dogs on the Streets has been handing out cool mats, bought by the public from an Amazon wishlist.

Its sanctuary for dogs, which usually opens at 7.30am, is now opening at 4am so staff can walk dogs while it’s still hot.

And taking care of dogs is also a way to make sure the people looking after them are alright.

“It is often the people we have to be concerned about,” Clark says. “People might think they are sleeping when they are in fact unconscious.”

And for anybody walking around in the heat, Clark has some advice: “If you see someone out on the street, with or without a dog, give them water. They can go hours without any fluid. 

“Skip your coffee and get a bottle of water. Those little things that seem so trivial can be life-saving for people out on the street.”

‘People forget that heatwaves can be as hard for people sleeping rough as cold temperatures’

“People forget that heatwaves can be as hard for people sleeping rough as cold temperatures,” says Lindsey Evans, outreach service manager at forfutures, which provides homeless support service on behalf of Cheshire West and Chester Council.

Specifically, there’s a big risk of dehydration, heat stroke, or lasting skin damage. Evans’ outreach team carries spray-on sun cream and bottles of water during the hot weather to help homeless people guard against this.

“During heatwaves, we know there are people on the streets who aren’t able to protect themselves from the sun,” Evans says.

“We notice that hot weather brings more people out into town centres, but there is often less shade, so it is important we talk to people about seeking cover and going indoors if possible. 

“If you see someone in need, ring an ambulance or encourage them to link into their outreach teams who can arrange support and a place for them to stay.” 

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