Welcome to summer in DC! It’s important to enjoy this season as any other, by taking care of each other. During these hot and humid days, people who are homeless are at very real risk of heat related illness and death because of prolonged exposure to the outdoors.

In the District, when temperatures rise above 95 degrees (factoring in the heat index), the District government is obligated to open severe weather “hyperthermia shelters” which are public or private buildings used as cooling centers for those individuals or families who are homeless and cannot access other shelter. Under the law, these hyperthermia shelters must include: food and clothing and other supportive services, or information about where to obtain basic needs and services;  24 hour access to properly functioning toilet facilities; cool water; and properly functioning cooling systems. More about the District’s heat emergency plan here.

If you see someone outside who looks like they need assistance finding a hyperthermia shelter or cooling center, call the District’s shelter hotline at 202-399-7093 to find the cooling center closest to them.

Click here to find the nearest cooling center provided by the District. You might also consider carrying an extra bottle or two of water with you to offer to folks out on the street.

Unfortunately, the term “hyperthermia shelter” does not include overnight shelters, which means that homeless individuals and families do not have a right to beds overnight unless the heat index is expected to stay above 95 degrees all night. This means that if the temperature falls to 94 degrees with the heat index, a homeless person or family can be told to leave the cooling center and must find somewhere else to sleep for the rest of the night.

We advise everyone to take care of themselves by drinking plenty of water, avoiding dehydrating beverages that contain alcohol, staying in the shade when you have to be outside, and of course avoiding strenuous outdoor activities. If you see someone outside experiencing a heat emergency, please call 911 to get them immediate assistance. Be on the lookout for the following signs of heat stroke:

  • headache
  • nausea, clamminess, chills
  • dizziness, periods of faintness
  • dry, hot skin
  • high body temperatures
  • rapid breathing
  • anxiety, listlessness
  • severe muscle pain
  • unconsciousness

Please take the time to program the shelter hotline number in your phone (202-399-7093); it could help you save a life this summer. We hope everyone stays safe and hydrated.