Homelessness is a year-round issue and comes in a range of forms, from the visible living on our streets kind to the ‘hidden homeless’. No matter what type of homelessness someone experiences, being without a home also leaves you without the basic necessities for leading a healthy and connected life.

Having nowhere to relax and unwind, or simply complete daily self-care tasks like brushing your teeth or cooking a healthy meal is just one aspect of being homeless. People often think the summer months make homelessness more bearable, but each season brings unique challenges. Below we take a look at the seasonal challenges homeless people face throughout the year.

Being Homeless in Summer

People are often unprepared for homelessness and without the things that meet their basic needs. Being homeless in the summertime, especially in the hot weather that the UK has experienced these past few months, can be just as dangerous as being homeless in sub-zero temperatures.

Dehydration is a real risk for homeless people. Clean, fresh, drinkable water is often not as available as one might think. Dehydration can cause complications with medication or health conditions and precipitate a homeless person’s demise.

Being hot, sticky and on your feet, most of the day can result in a range of foot problems for homeless people. Keeping feet clean, wearing appropriate shoes and changing our socks daily for a clean, dry pair is how we maintain their health. That’s often not an option when you’re homeless.

Unfortunately, mental illness and homelessness often go hand in hand. The additional physical and mental stresses homeless people are under often cause or exacerbate existing problems with anxiety, depression and even PTSD. Many of the medications prescribed to manage these conditions cause the body to react to heat in unhelpful ways – preventing us from sweating and decreasing blood flow to our skin. The warmer months put homeless people at risk of heat stroke, sunburn and if temperatures rise above 95°F, death.

Warmer weather means more insects and if you’re sleeping out of the way in parks or disused land, insects are a real pest. Bites can easily get infected and being unable to regularly wash and care for hygiene needs multiplies the problem.

The Changes Autumn Brings for Homeless People

The cooler days and longer nights of autumn bring a respite from the heat of summer and a different set of difficulties for people without a home. Fewer hours of daylight triggers a change in our brain chemistry causing our bodies to produce more melatonin to make us feel sluggish while a reduction in serotonin further decreases alertness and makes it more difficult to maintain a positive outlook. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as S.A.D and is difficult to combat without light sources found in homes and workplaces.

Viruses are more common in the cooler months and homeless people are more likely to contract these. As the cooler months also cause us to burn more calories to keep warm homeless people often have less resource to fight viruses and nowhere to rest and recuperate if they do fall ill.

To top it all off, cooler weather also brings on aching joints and muscles as they lose flexibility and strength to cold. The best remedies include staying out of the cold, wearing more layers of clothing and warming up your home before waking – impossible if your only shelter is a tent or doorway and you’re wearing all the clothes you own.

Winter Bites Deep for the Homeless

As temperatures continue to drop for winter, frostbite, hypothermia and exposure become real risks. A rising threat of infection is ushered in with the cold thanks to weakened immune systems. There is also a raised risk of heart attack. Staying warm and dry in winter months is sometimes impossible.

Local Authorities have an obligation to provide emergency shelter if temperatures dip below zero for more than two consecutive nights, but if they remain hovering around 1 – 3 degrees, homeless people are on their own and left to find whatever shelter they can. In past years, Freedom has helped provide this emergency service and this winter we will be opening a Safe Sleep program with North Devon Council for people who have nowhere to escape the cold. This will run from 8 pm to 8 am, regardless of how cold it becomes outside and is the only winter shelter for homeless people in North Devon.

As well as contending with freezing weather, isolation and depression further deplete a person’s spirit when they have nowhere to gather with friends and family. Most people make plans to meet up with loved ones over the Christmas period and knowing that this is simply not possible when you are homeless can cause loneliness to bite even harder than the winter chill.

Spring Pushes Up New Challenges

As the world re-awakens from winter with changeable weather and budding plants, homeless people are forced to deal with wet clothes and bedding from unpredictable downpours. Allergies, respiratory difficulties and asthma from the damp environment also become more common. 

Higher levels of humidity, low pressure and high winds can bring about migraines and headaches, muscles and joint pain or aggravate arthritis. If we have a home to go to these maladies can be managed with pain relief medication and a well-balanced diet. Interventions such as a visit to a physiotherapist or osteopath might also be taken, however, for homeless people, all of these options are usually out of reach.

Each season brings unique and difficult challenges for homeless people. Seasonally appropriate donations or regularly donating are two ways people can help to ease these difficulties. However, nothing is better for meeting these needs than a secure and welcoming home for people who don’t already have one.