Jul

8

2013

The Most Lethal Weather for the Homeless? Not Cold

As I sat down to write this blog, the hot summer weather seeped into my office.

Outside of the Bargains Group office it was a sunny, sticky 24 degrees and with our air conditioner on the fritz, it wasn't much cooler inside.

I was out of the sun, and had easy access to water to cool me off; but with Project Water on the top of my mind, I knew there were many homeless people on the streets in a far worse condition than I.

The thought made me want to do a quick Google search to see what people online thought about the homeless in the summer and their ability to access water in the extreme heat. What I found disappointed me, but didn't shock me.

On one particular Yahoo Answers page, someone posed the question, "Is it hard for homeless people to find water?" The answer voted most "correct"...

"No, there are lots of rivers and streams around."

Unfortunately, the issue of homeless people suffering from dehydration while on the streets is one that has long been marred by ignorance or misinformation.

14 years ago, while I was sitting on a patio in the warm spring sun, sipping an ice-cold drink, I posed a question to a street nurse who had helped me organize Project Winter Survival. I asked her a simple question, "What challenges do homeless people face during the summer?"

In this instance, it was my own ignorance that was exposed. She leaned towards me and stated matter-of-factly...

"Jody, more homeless people die of dehydration in the summer than of cold exposure in the winter."

I was floored. The image of a homeless person suffering in the frigid Canadian winters seemed far more painful than someone sitting in the summer sun. It was a difficult thing to accept.

She went on to explain that the number of homeless who die of dehydration is often skewed, because it often causes complications or exacerbates pre-existing conditions. And with fresh water so readily available to many of us, it can be hard to imagine someone not being able to have water when they need it most.

In a 2012 study, 80 per cent of Canadians didn't believe we have an issue with our water system; to a large majority of Canadians water is readily accessible, so when people consider challenges the homeless face, obtaining drinking water isn't one of them. And with the summer being more wet than normal, it further drowns that fact that water can be hard to come by for people on the streets.

Based on that conversation I founded Project Water, an annual event which gathers volunteers to engage as a team and help distribute water to front-line social service agencies. These agencies can then get the water to those most vulnerable; the homeless.

Project Water has become the waterline to the homeless.

This year the event is the biggest it has ever been. On July 9th, aside from distributing water and permanent filtration systems to 170 shelters and agencies, volunteers will also pack 3000 Summer Survival Kits -- a new addition to Project Water -- which will contain essential items to help the homeless survive the hot summer months.

The kits are an excellent addition to Project Water but make no mistake, it is the water that will save lives of those living on the streets.

Our goal is to bring Project Water to every major city in Canada where it is needed, because water is a human right, but sadly it too often ends up as a luxury for those on the streets.

For more information on Project Water and how you can bring the event to your city, please visit www.projectwater.ca.