So far this year, Philadelphia has enjoyed a long spring with comfortable temperatures. As we get into summer weather, heat and humidity can nevertheless rise quickly. A sudden change can catch us off guard and is especially dangerous for certain people. Those experiencing homelessness are among the most vulnerable.
The City has a comprehensive plan for dealing with excessive heat. As early as May, Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health (PDPH) can activate a “Heat Caution” based on daily temperatures and the forecast. If it gets hotter, PDPH may escalate to a “Heat Health Emergency.”
The response can include temporary cooling centers, spray-grounds and more resources. Citywide efforts during a Heat Health Emergency are coordinated by the Office of Emergency Management (OEM).
The City also has a separate process in place for people experiencing homelessness. When the heat index reaches 95°F for at least three consecutive days, the Office of Homeless Services (OHS) declares what we call a Code Red.
A Code Red is specifically for people experiencing homelessness. It is an independent declaration related to temperatures. Sometimes a Code Red continues even after a Heat Health Emergency ends.
When OHS declares a Code Red:
- We send an alert to our entire network of providers through email, asking them to acknowledge they received it. We communicate with local television and radio stations and share information on social media.
- City-funded homeless shelters offer participants the option to stay indoors during the day, when possible.
- Outreach teams provide information on daytime homeless service program locations, such as the Hub of Hope or Grace Café.
- Teams hand out additional bottles of water to people on the street.
Teams also adapt the way they do assessments on the street during a Code Red. For example, they will consider if someone experiencing homelessness is overdressed. Teams may refer people to medical treatment for a heat related health issue. In rare cases, teams may require emergency action.
Concerned residents can also help. Handing out water to someone on the street is a welcome gesture.
If you are worried about someone out in the street at any time, but especially during excessive heat, please call the City’s homeless outreach hotline at (215) 232-1984. You may not remember that number when someone needs that call, so save it on your phone now.
You can call day or night. Be prepared to share the person’s location. Trained outreach teams will go to the address you provide. Teams include trained staff, and sometimes people with lived experience of homelessness. However, if someone needs urgent medical attention dial 911.
The City takes many actions during a heatwave to keep Philadelphians safe, including those experiencing homelessness. You too can help protect our most vulnerable residents this summer.