High-risk populations, specifically homeless people, are especially vulnerable during heat waves, insisted various social actors on Wednesday. The death rate amongst the homeless is as high in summer as it is in winter, highlights L’Ilot, a group offering hospitality, housing and services to the homeless. The current heat wave in Belgium is threatening the frailest people on the streets, at risk of dehydration and strokes, explains L’Ilot in a press release.
There are multiple risks, explains Pierre Ryckmans from the non-profit organisation Nurses in the Streets: higher alcohol levels due to the heat, sunburn, skin issues (infections, mycosis) are all made much worse by increased sweating… The homeless are also more spread out in the city and harder to find,” he remarks.
The non-profit organisation has been publishing Brussels maps highlighting fountains and drinking water outlets as well as free toilets to help the homeless, since 2006. A poster handed out to field organisations also lists the advice to be given: head for the shade, find some air, drink water often.
The emergency assistance services for the homeless in Brussels implemented a “heat wave plan” on Tuesday to help fight dehydration. Mobile units are handing out bottles of water throughout the capital in the hope of getting through to the homeless. The elderly and those under the influence of alcohol or other substances are being especially monitored. They “tend to stop feeling thristy,” points out Christophe Thielens, in charge of communication. “In certain ‘night shops’ beer is actually cheaper than water,” he deplores.
The actors criticise a decrease in available funds during the summer and the limited number of beds offered. But “social exclusion is not seasonally adjusted,” notes Christophe Thielens. “It’s a year-round problem.”