Philly’s Plan to Beat the Heat and Keep the Homeless Safe

Hot weather in PhiladelphiaImage via the City of Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA, PA — Philadelphia has basked in a long, comfortable spring season so far this year. However, summer weather brings with it rapid spikes in heat and humidity, which can be hazardous for certain people and catch us off guard. The homeless, in particular, find themselves even more vulnerable during sudden weather changes.

The City of Philadelphia 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 of Philadelphia 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 is called 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:

  • OHS will send an alert to its entire network of providers through email, asking them to acknowledge they received it. OHS communicates with local television and radio stations and shares 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.
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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, call Philadelphia’s homeless outreach hotline at (215) 232-1984.

Residents can call day or night. Be prepared to share the person’s location. Trained outreach teams will go to the address provided. Teams include trained staff, and sometimes people with lived experience of homelessness. However, if someone needs urgent medical attention dial 911.

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