Keeping our clients cool in the Dining Hall

Olivia Killeen, Communication and Social Policy Officer
Olivia Killeen Communication and Social Policy Officer
20 February 2024
Volunteers work in the Dining Hall

It’s tipped that Summer 2023-2024 will be one of the hottest on record in many parts of the country.

How do you stay cool when experiencing homelessness?

The dangers of extreme heat on the body can be fatal and reliance on air conditioning is driving up energy bills, adding financial stress to many households.

But what if you don’t have a home at all? If you’re sleeping rough on the street, or in a car or tent, and it’s 35 degrees or more, how do you keep yourself cool? The reality is that you can’t. When extreme weather hits, people experiencing homelessness are at great risk.

To escape the heat, our clients may visit libraries or shopping centres but there are very few cool, public spaces available to people on low incomes. People experiencing homelessness may be targeted and told to move on by security or staff, which leads to further social exclusion and isolation.

Extreme heat is a concern for everyone, but especially older people, as they do not adjust as well to sudden changes in temperature and are more likely to have medical conditions that change the body’s responses to heat.

“My thyroid condition makes me hot and sweaty really easily, so hot days aren’t very fun”. – Melissa*, Client

Staff members at Sacred Heart Central
Kirsty, Dining Hall Head Chef and Ash, Sacred Heart Central "Sheriff"

Reprieve from the heat

At Sacred Heart Mission, our Engagement Hubs provide a safe haven for people sleeping rough during extreme heat periods. We provide access to sunscreen and bottled water, as well as icy poles on particularly hot days and people are welcome inside during our opening hours.

Our Dining Hall is especially important to clients during hot weather. Not only do they have a reprieve from the heat, but they also have access to a nutritious meal and support from our staff.

Not so cool

Unfortunately, at the end of 2023, the air conditioning system in the Dining Hall reached the end of its’ useable life and broke down. As a result, the space wasn’t filling its role as a cool service space for clients who need it and wasn’t as welcoming as it should be.

“Some people weren’t coming in for breakfast when they usually did because the air-conditioning wasn’t working, and so they missed appointments with staff,” says Chris Middendorp, Manager of Sacred Heart Central and the Dining Hall. “We’re in the business of giving people reasons to visit us so this was a big barrier.”

Comfort through summer and winter

Replacing it was extremely expensive, because the Dining Hall is so big – over 100 square metres. To efficiently heat the Dining Hall in winter and cool it in summer, we needed six reverse cycle units and new wiring. We need to keep our clients comfortable and safe and thus, the spend was absolutely essential.

Thanks to the kindness and generosity of our supporters, we were able to raise the funds to cover the costs.

Your support helps us to ensure that people without a home have somewhere safe to visit, in every season!

*Please note the clients name has been changed for their privacy