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Homeless face "worst week of the year"

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Adelaide’s homeless face their worst week of the year with the heatwave bringing a swathe of health risks, says Ian Cox from the Hutt Street Centre.

Cox said extreme heat brought risks of dehydration, infection and exacerbation of existing illnesses among the centre’s homeless clients – even those who have been found a place to live.

There are calls for the public to watch out for vulnerable people, including the homeless, during the week’s extreme heat.

READ MORE: Extreme heat warning for SA

“The heat is quite debilitating,” Cox said. “It’s even harder than when it gets cold and wet, purely because there’s no respite at all. We have a lot of clients who will come in the next day or two, especially if they’re sleeping rough, with spider bites, mosquito bites, which can get infected as well.

“People living in boarding houses and even our group who we’ve housed, most of them don’t have any cooling so there’s no real respite for them.”

With dehydration a real risk, the Hutt Street Centre will stay open for longer than usual to provide water and a cooler place for the homeless.

“It’s pretty debilitating. and for people who live in cars and those things and are doing it really tough, there’s nowhere else to run.

“It’s the absolute consistency of the weather – it’s just really harsh. One day we can all get through, but when it’s day four and day five we see lots of [people]. And sometimes your alcohol abuse and other sorts of behaviours can really get exacerbated by it as well.

“I haven’t seen any studies on heat and mental health but I would dare say there has to be some massive link there as well.”

Cox said the community should be looking out for homeless people suffering in the heat.

“Absolutely, I think the whole community should be looking after people out there because they’re our brothers and sisters and daughters and sons. If you’re driving by why wouldn’t people just drop off a cool drink because they’re going to need it out there. For most of us we’re quite fortunate to go back to an air-conditioned place, but for people out there they’re going to be doing it for days on end.”

Ross Womersley, the Executive Director of SACOSS, said the community should be aware of the safety of vulnerable people this week.

“If you are aware of people that are out on the streets sleeping rough, approach them thoughtfully and carefully,” he said.

“As the weather is so hot it is vital to reduce the risk of dehydration. Basic care like offering water and sunscreen to homeless people lessens the risk of things like dehydration and heat stroke.

“The Adelaide City Council and other social justice offices are aware of the dangers to homeless people in these conditions and are opening up spaces such as the City Bus Depot on Franklin Street so that those out on the streets can seek relief.”

– with reporting by Liam Mannix

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