At no time is it pleasant to be living on the streets, but winter is really the pits!
I remember staying on the mountain on rainy days in winter when I would slip and slide, leaving the place I called home and worrying about whether I would make it down to Ocean View Drive alive.
And if I lived to tell the tale, would I be telling the tale from a hospital bed with a broken appendage or neck?
There were some days that were so bad that I wouldn’t even contemplate venturing outside, but then there were times when it rained non-stop for days on end and when the hunger pains got the better of my fear, or worse still, when I caught a cold and would have no choice but to drag myself out and have to go and skarrel to get myself some Med-Lemon and Disprin.
Even though it was only by the grace of God that I survived each one of those horrible days, by the time I was in Ocean View Drive, I would have forgiven anyone seeing me at that point for thinking I had messed myself as my cautious slip down the mountain left my blue jeans awkwardly streaked with brown mud.
When you don’t have a home, cold weather can be very dangerous.
It’s harder to get and stay warm, particularly if the weather is wet.
However, there are lots of small ways you can help people experiencing homelessness during winter.
How to help?
If you feel safe to do so, stop and say “hello”.
The most helpful things you can do are:
¡ Offer them hot food and/or a hot drink – remember to ask if they have any dietary requirements or preferences.
¡ Offer them blankets and/or warm clothes. Offer them a rain jacket or umbrella to help them keep dry. ¡ Help the homeless get medical attention if they need it.
¡ Help them find emergency shelter. You can help them find shelter by making a City of Cape Town referral for them, by contacting 0800 220 250 or refer them to a local homeless service provider. You could also call or refer them to Outsider (060 357 1441); one of our Community Engagement Officers (CEOs) can offer advice and support by contacting one of the sector’s service providers.
In an emergency, call 112 from any cellphone network or for an ambulance, call 10177.
Hypothermia is a dangerous drop in body temperature below 35ºC (normal body temperature is around 37ºC). It’s a medical emergency that needs to be treated in hospital. It can affect anyone, but people who are sleeping rough are particularly at risk because it’s harder to get and stay warm.
Each year we lose many of those who are sleeping on the streets to hypothermia.The symptoms are your body’s way of warning you to warm up, fast.
The signs to watch for and quickly act on are:
¡ Shivering, pale, cold and dry skin – their skin and lips may be blue.
¡ Slurred speech, slow breathing, tiredness or confusion.
Older adults and young infants, as well as people with long-term health conditions, are particularly at risk.
The body’s ability to regulate its temperature is not fully developed in the young and may be reduced by illness, medications or other factors in older adults.
What to do if someone has hypothermia, call for an ambulance or, if possible, help them get to an emergency room.
In the meantime, try to get them somewhere warm and dry and give them blankets and clothes. Do not rub their arms, legs, feet or hands or give them alcohol or anything caffeinated to drink. Don’t try to give fluids to someone who is unconscious.
We are now collecting blankets, warm clothes, shoes and toiletries to hand out to individuals experiencing homelessness as we continue with “Everything Counts”.
Should you wish to donate towards the “Winter Warmers” campaign, we have drop-off spots in Sea Point, Maitland and the CBD.
Please contact me at 071 341 3398 or email me at carlosmesquita396@ gmail.com.
* Carlos Mesquita.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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