Everyone talks about beating the heat when it’s time for summer, but do we ever stop to think about those in our community who can’t? Being raised by parents working in the social service sector means volunteerism is both an inherited and a learned trait. Read the post below to learn about the five simple ways I hope to make a difference in Austin this summer.
According to Front Steps, the managing organization for Austin’s Resource Center for the homeless, 7,498 individuals experiencing literal homelessness and 4,654 individuals at risk for homelessness was served in 2017. That’s a total of at least 12,152 known individuals in our community, who are experiencing struggles due to homelessness on a daily basis.
As temperatures begin to rise (we’re already hitting the triple digits!), here is a list of five ways you can easily make the lives of those experiencing poverty and homelessness more bearable.
Did I mention the heat? Dehydration is one of the biggest problems homeless people and people in need face in the summer, especially in Texas. Providing water is always a good option and water isn’t as accessible as you would think, particularly in the quantity needed to stay hydrated in the sun.
I like to keep bottles of water in my car so that way when I pull up to a stop light, I can easily pass the bottle through the window instead of shrugging my hands, the universal sign for not having change.
While cold water is a plus for staying cool in the summer heat, water of any temperature is helpful. It can be used to drink or for cleanliness purposes. Either way, you can’t go wrong with water.
Everyone is at risk for the effects of sun exposure. But naturally, the more time spent in the sun, the greater the risk of overexposure, damage, or sun related illness. While the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) recommends using SPF 15 or greater sunscreen, avoiding the direct sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., taking breaks from the sun and covering up, individuals experiencing homelessness don’t have these luxuries.
In many areas of the city, individuals experiencing homelessness are prohibited from lying or sitting on the sidewalk or sleeping outdoors. With few, if any, places to rest and get out of the sun, individuals often endure the heat of the summer sun throughout the entirety of the day.
Help prevent the risk of overexposure to the sun by offering sunscreen to our neighbors in need. You can pick up a 3-ounce SPF 50 sunscreen at the Dollar Tree for a dollar a unit.
Imagine with me… the temperature is quickly climbing, city ordinances prohibit you from sitting, resting or sleeping in many public areas and shade is hard to come by. The sun is beating down on your head.
When you don’t have the luxury of air conditioning or shade, a hat can be your hero. The skin on your face, ears and neck is thinner and more sensitive to UV damage. Be a hero this summer and extend a helping hat to individuals experiencing homelessness. You can also purchase wide brim hats at Dollar Tree for a dollar!
Another important accessory that we often take for granted is a simple pair of sunglasses. We get them free from SXSW vendors and events. We have extra pairs in our car for when we forget our stylish ones. But ultimately, we need them in the bright glaring sun.
Sunglasses are a commodity for individuals experiencing homelessness. They are a luxury item.
People in these difficult positions often have to make choices between eating and getting the care they need. Sunglasses are a huge help in the bright summer, but can’t compete with the other necessities when balancing a tight or often non-existent budget.
5. Care Kit
Handing out any of the above-mentioned items is a great way to make an impact this summer. If you are a bit more ambitious, like me, you can grab some friends or create a fun project for your kids now that they are out of school.
Care kits are most helpful when gathered in a large gallon size Ziploc bag. Ziploc bags allow the receiving individual to easily view and store what is in the kit. It also helps to keep everything clean and dry.
Care kits can include any or all of the items mentioned above or you can get creative. Popular items among those experiencing homelessness include;
- Small toiletries
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Wet wipes
- Feminine hygiene products
- Beef jerky
- Breakfast/cereal bars
- Chocolate (although snacks that won’t melt are best in the summer)
- Peanut butter crackers
- Raisins/dried fruit
- Snack cups
- Tuna/chicken salad cracker kits
Things to remember when putting together Care Kits:
Soap and Shampoo are easily accessible in shelters and public restrooms, so save the real estate in your care kit for items that are harder to access.
One more thing
Most importantly, remember that individuals experiencing homelessness are people just like you and me. A little compassion and kindness go a long way to combat a dehumanizing situation.
If you don’t know how to help someone or you need help yourself, call 2-1-1 to be connected to or to connect someone to resources throughout our community.