On a recent hot August day, the shaded Covenant House courtyard provided cool respite from the blazing sun as youth were welcomed by music and friendly greetings from healthcare team. Along with freezies, lemonade and ice cream sandwiches, the youth who came through were offered potentially life-saving information about how to stay safe in hot summer temperatures.

For many, summer is a care-free season where the most pressing issue is deciding what to do over a long weekend. Youth experiencing homelessness don’t always have this luxury: Being outside for significant periods of time in the heat can pose significant health risks for them, including heat stroke, sunburn, dehydration and respiratory issues. These risks are intensified due to reduced access to water, food or emergency treatment for heat related illness.

During the event, Benskids Health Centre registered nurse Paula Utomi spoke with a number of youth about how to protect themselves from the sun and heat. Her main message was that heat stroke is one of the most serious health concerns that can result from high temperatures.

“It is important for youth experiencing homelessness who spend a lot of time outdoors to stay safe from the sun because it can cause illness if they are exposed to heat for a very long time,” said Paula. “There are many ways for them to get out of the sun and keep cool such as going to one of the city’s cooling centres, a mall, library, community centre or even finding some shade outside will help.”

The event consisted of themed booths offering information about how youth experiencing homelessness can best manage through the hot summer weather. Youth were offered free sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, foot powder, hydration packs and aloe.

Registered nurses were on hand to answer questions and share their expertise on everything from how to identify certain bug bites to how to keep themselves and others safe while using substances in the summer months. They also let youth know how to identify athlete’s foot, a common concern for youth without stable housing and who may be walking kilometres a day in the heat.

Our health centre supports youth regardless of whether they have ID or health coverage. This ensures each young person can easily access health care. From first aid to lab tests, our health care team tailors care to the youth’s individual needs.

Those unique needs informed the messages and advice health team staff shared with youth that day, Paula said.

“This summer’s health fair was a fun and effective way for our team to personally provide youth with information and resources that could potentially save their life.”