Winter has arrived with plummeting temperatures. For homeless people, each season comes with its share of problems. During winter it’s the cold with its most serious consequence, the risk of hypothermia. Frostbite, causing amputation is another risk, although rarer.
How to help homeless people during winter?
Benevolent citizens regularly contact us with questions about how they can help homeless people they meet in the street.
We give them our three golden rules:
Advice no.1: Recognise the symptoms of hypothermia
The symptoms of mild hypothermia are easily recognisable. The affected people may tremble, be confused, and find it difficult to walk. Start by contacting them to check whether they still react coherently. Give them something to drink or to eat, an extra blanket, and recommend they move around… all things that can be helpful in cases of mild hypothermia.
If hypothermia is severe, however, symptoms are not so easily recognisable. The affected people may refuse help, behave strangely, suffer from stiff muscles, and may even be unconscious… And they may not show any trembling.
Advice no. 2: Don’t give alcohol, tea, or coffee
Tea and coffee, like alcohol, enhance heat loss and have a diuretic effect. Rather give other warm drinks, like soup or chocolate.
Advice no. 3: If necessary, call an ambulance
If you think you’re dealing with a case of severe hypothermia, you best call an ambulance. Dial number 112. Also good to know: warming up must be done very gradually in a medical center. Going too fast can be dangerous.
We need your support to be able to continue our work!
What’s the role of Street Nurses?
At Street Nurses we’re intent on getting homeless people to a medical center or a general practitioner so as to ensure they get treated in the right place and for a long duration.
We may provide care to people in the street but that’s mainly in order to create a bond of trust, to motivate them to go somewhere else if institutions are closed, or to convince them that treatment is good for them. What matters for us is that people commit themselves and move into a home of their own, which is the only way to improve their health (physical and mental).
In addition, we developed two prevention tools: a poster “Cold”, and a poster “Hypothermia” (to be downloaded on our site or to be ordered in a printed version).
Life on the street can be fatal in any season
If, during winter, rescue centers are organised, this season is not necessarily the most dangerous.
It’s different in spring when most rescue centers close their doors and hundreds of people find themselves outside again with all that this entails (loss of orientation, isolation, etc.)
In addition, most homeless people suffer throughout the year from chronic physical and mental health problems, which makes them very vulnerable in any season.