Warmer days ahead make it tough for Indy’s homeless population

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’s heating up across central Indiana. For many of us, it’s uncomfortable, but it could be dangerous for the city’s homeless population. Local groups are taking steps to ensure the homeless population stays cool as the temperatures rise.

The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and Wheeler Mission are working to make sure the homeless have places to go and are being checked on regularly.

“We go to every camp in the city at least once a week,” said IMPD Officer Phil Smiley. “You know those camps where people are probably a little bit more vulnerable than others.”

When patrolmen go into these camps, they check on the physical and mental health of the people staying there. They are especially checking for signs of heat-related illnesses.

“What we get concerned with is heat stroke, heat exhaustion,” said Smiley. “We’re very cognoscente to those symptoms when we see them. We’re all EMT trained, so we have a bit more knowledge on what that’s gonna look like.”

The teams also pay attention when someone takes medication because they know that can make dealing with the heat harder. They work with teams at Eskenazi and Wheeler Mission to make sure the homeless population is getting adequate care.

“A lot of times you see people out there who are homeless and they have on sweatshirts and sweaters and jackets too,” said William Bumphus, Director of the men’s emergency shelter services at Wheeler Mission. “Those are the items they have and are living with and have to move from place to place. Having that on during the heat can be a difficult thing.”

According to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, people who live on the streets or in shelters are at an increased risk for heat-related illnesses and also dehydration. Many take their own precautions to make sure they stay safe.

“I stay light; I bring lots of water, and I stay away from the caffeine,” said James David Williams, who is homeless. “And I keep my head away from the sun as much as I can.”

Some may think the homeless are better off during the summer months. Wheeler Mission says even though winter is tougher for that populations, it doesn’t mean the heat is easy on the homeless.

You may remember last summer Wheeler Mission opened up their gym to give families a place to stay, but they quickly were over capacity.

According to Marion County’s Point-In-Time Count, nearly 1600 people homeless persons were sheltered or unsheltered on any given night in January of this year.

That number is down about 7% from last year, but 10% of that population was facing homelessness for the first time. Also, families comprise 26% of that count.

“Just being out there in the heat in general is a bad thing for people to be out in especially when they have nowhere else to go to get out of it,” said Smiley.

Smiley says the Mission is encouraging the homeless to drink lots of water and find resources, like them, that can get them water and give them a place to stay when it gets to be too much.

According to the CDC, signs of heat exhaustion are:

  • Muscle cramping
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or fainting

Symptoms of heat stroke:

  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Red, hot and dry skin with no sweating
  • Confusion
  • Body temperature greater than 103 degrees

“We are emergency shelter services for any adult who is 18 and over experiencing extreme heat issues or just experiencing needing to get off the street,” said Smiley.

Local groups ask the community look out for one another especially during the warmer months.

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