June 2021 was the warmest June on record in Boston’s history and heat waves have continued to hit records throughout July. While excessively hot weather can be difficult to manage for many, for those experiencing homelessness, the situation is critical.
Those who are outside for prolonged periods, like many of our guests, are at higher risk for heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Many people become dehydrated or develop severe sunburn throughout the summer months and for those with disabilities or medical conditions, struggling with alcohol, or other substance issues, dealing with the heat and high humidity is exceptionally challenging.
What should you do if you encounter an individual who appears to be suffering from the heat?
If you suspect that there is a medical emergency – someone is sweating profusely, their skin appears clammy or pale, they appear disoriented or dizzy, or have fainted – please call 911. If a situation does not appear to be an emergency, but you believe that someone is in need of help, please call 311.
For those who do not appear to be in immediate distress, offering a bottle of water or providing sunscreen, a cap, or a pair of sunglasses are all welcome acts of kindness. Recommending one of the many shaded areas throughout Downtown Boston where people can find respite from the sun can also be helpful. They include the Boston Common, the Public Garden, the Rose Kennedy Greenway, the mall on Commonwealth Ave and the Esplanade along the Charles.
The City of Boston also provides a number of cooling centers that are available when a heat emergency is declared, listed here. In addition to the City-sponsored centers, day centers where people go to escape the heat, including St. Francis House. Our fully air conditioned facility is open from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. (2p.m. on Sundays and Wednesdays) and guests are welcome to stay for as long as we are open. Here they have access to cool water, food, showers and medical care.
St. Francis House is fully equipped to help our guests cope with heat emergencies, and with help from our community, we can look out for our homeless neighbors and keep them safe from the harmful effects of the heat.
Boston Mayoral Candidates Forum: Pathways Out of Homelessness
Join us for a virtual election forum with the candidates for Boston mayor, focused on homelessness & moderated by Marcela Garcia from The Boston Globe.
Presented by The Boston Coalition for Homeless Individuals, this event will give the candidates for Boston mayor an opportunity to present their platforms and to answer questions directly from those experiencing homelessness. The Coalition partner organizations will host live streaming sessions for clients, voter registration drives, and post-event facilitated discussions.
Many of our neighbors experiencing homelessness have been left out of the political process; many others in the Boston community care about these issues and want to hear how the next Mayor will respond to the issue of homelessness–this event will be a crucial step in taking a deeper dive into the policies and resources needed to more effectively address homelessness in Boston.
BBJ Op-ed: Everyday kindness can help alleviate homelessness
More than a year into the Covid-19pandemic, we must remember the continued needs of some the most vulnerable in our community: those experiencing homelessness.
As individuals and business leaders, it can be easy to let the feelings of being embittered and embattled convince us that we are powerless to effect positive change in our community. However, many of the problems present in our community can, indeed, be alleviated not just by the actions of corporations but by individuals as well. Now more than ever, vulnerable communities may be cut off from the help they need, and even virtually, we as a business community can make a difference. Most companies prior to the pandemic participated in hands-on volunteering experiences. Since the shutdown, the business community has found creative ways to replicate that engagement in a remote world. Even though we have had to stay six feet apart, that shouldn’t stop us from making a noticeable impact on those who need it the most.
Faced with the pandemic, dedicated volunteers and agencies have developed alternate ways to give back while staying safe. Using creativity, and often aided by digital tools, volunteer groups have learned how to support their communities from a distance. Just as the world found ways to accommodate important aspects of life virtually, it is time we apply that same ingenuity to how we giveback to our communities.
One example of this is with The Sullivan Family Moving Ahead Program (MAP) at Massachusetts’ largest day shelter, St. Francis House. This 14-week job and life skills training program has proven to be extremely effective for those experiencing homelessness and struggling to find a job. Yet with the pandemic, the program had to make some alterations. Natixis Investment Managers is one of the key partners that has helped the program continue to thrive and grow amid the pandemic. Together, we have pivoted a once in-person event, the mock job interview, to go virtual. The virtual mock interviews have allowed program students to gain the confidence and skills they need to land a job while offering valuable leadership practice for executives at Natixis. As partners, we are combining our resources, talent and passion to continue making a difference in the community.
This is just one example of a way corporate and nonprofit partners can work together to ignite change in new ways. Not just corporations, but individuals, can make a difference with just a simple act. The streets of Boston are a lonely place for people experiencing homelessness. We are all familiar with our knee-jerk reactions when we see an individual experiencing homelessness asking for help: “I can’t help them.” “I don’t have time to help them.” “My help won’t make a difference.” “They’ll never change.” For many, the reaction is to simply look away. Witnessing homelessness makes us uncomfortable, in part, because we do not want to accept the social, economic and political factors that have created the environment where a segment of our community lacks the basic necessity of a home. Yet, as both an organization and individually, it is our civic responsibility to help improve the quality of life in the communities where we live and work daily.
Maybe you walk or drive by the same person outside your coffeeshop each morning, or at your T stop, or at an intersection. Rather than averting your eyes and trying to pretend the scourge of homelessness does not exist, simply acknowledging that person in the most human way: Eye contact, a smile, a friendly nod, and a simple “hello.” It may, at first, feel uncomfortable, or trite or pointless. But subtle acknowledgements of someone’s existence, repeated and multiplied over weeks, months and years, can help those on the receiving end understand that they are valued — that they have a place in this world, and that the world cares about them and their well-being. That self-worth and self-confidence can help individuals experiencing homelessness find the strength to take tangible steps to improve their lives.
In the end, we have been confronted with the needs of our communities and are coming to terms with the realities that we may not be able to help in person, just yet. But there are many ways we as a business community can make a difference, even from six feet apart.
Karen LaFrazia is president and CEO of St. Francis House, a homelessness nonprofit in Boston. David Giunta is CEO of Natixis Investment Managers US in Boston.