H2O: Too High A Price?

Posted: June 20, 2008 in Compassion, Health, Homelessness, Morality

Today is the day of the Summer Solstice. And the Summer Solstice means that the days will begin growing shorter and the evenings longer.

Yesterday’s official high for the San Luis Obispo area was 102 degrees. That’s awfully hot. Fortunately, this part of central California doesn’t get hit with the high levels of humidity which other parts of the country so often do. Still 102 degrees is nothing to sneeze at.  

One important lesson I learned while being one of SLO’s homeless was the need to remain hydrated – particularly during the summer season. I’d become dehydrated on a couple of occasions and then had to deal with the consequences – which believe it or not, can last for several days afterward.

Once the human body dehydrates it can take a while for it to become sufficiently re-hydrated again. It isn’t as though you can just drink a few glasses of water and everything goes back to normal. That’s not the way it works. Because dehydration occurs at the cellular level, it can take some time for the body’s cells to reacquire the fluids they’ve lost. In some extreme instances, dehydration requires hospitalization and fluid replenishment by way of IV.

The way of avoid dehydration is simply to make sure that you drink plenty of fluids –whether or not you feel thirsty. In fact, I recall reading in some science magazine several months ago that by the time we actually feel thirsty it’s too late – our bodies are already partially dehydrated.

One of the disadvantages that so many homeless in our nation face – especially during the summer – is the lack of access to drinking water. Subsequently, most homeless persons actually spend most of the summer months in a constant state of partial dehydration. I know that may sound peculiar, but it is nonetheless true and it is a direct consequence of not having a place to live.

Most of us, when we feel thirsty, can simply walk over to the kitchen sink, turn on the tap and fill a glass with water. During the day, as we go about our business, we can always stop somewhere and buy ourselves a bottle of water. At work, we can go to the water dispenser or water fountain and "quench our thirst." No fuss. No muss. The homeless, however, do not have those options.

It’s true that there are numerous public buildings where a homeless person can find a water fountain, and yes, there are even public parks. And, of course, the homeless can get water at the homeless shelters or other homeless support services agencies. But access to those facilities is still limited. Homeless shelters generally aren’t accessible until after a certain time in the evening. Public buildings are only open during business hours.

Most of us have, at one time or another, seen a homeless person sitting in the shade somewhere during the summer months. But how often do we stop to think about whether that person may be thirsty? How often do we offer to buy them a bottle of water?

Here’s something to ponder on: it’s actually less expensive for us to buy a bottle of water for a homeless person than it is for us not to buy them a bottle of water.

Let me explain.

It’s a hot day. We see a homeless person. We disregard that person and don’t spend the dollar or two to provide them with a bottle of water. That person dehydrates. If their dehydration reaches a critical level, they end up at the local hospital’s emergency room. Since that homeless person can’t afford to pay the bill, the hospital is forced to "write off" the loss. But they don’t really write the loss off. The cost gets passed on to someone else and the bill eventually gets paid for. By who? The local taxpayer – that’s who.

Additionally, it can be even more expensive if that homeless person has a pre-existing or on-going medical condition. Dehydration can, and does, exacerbate pre-existing health problems. This in turn means that it can cost the hospital more to treat that person – and again, the costs gets passed on to the local taxpayer.

With the official beginning of summer just a couple of days away, think about how much money we, as a society, habitually spend every week at Starbucks and other such franchises. Think about the numbers of homeless who call the streets of our nation’s cities home.

Now ask yourself this question: isn’t it worth denying yourself a cup of designer coffee to provide a bottle of water to one of your fellow human beings?

Or, is that too high a price to pay for doing the right thing?

  1. papahere says:

    Michael…I believe everyone is entitled to the basic necessities of life and water would be one such necessity…it is another insensitive response to the needs of the homeless…it raised the question as to why society in general tends to reject and acts punitively toward this group…I suspect one reason is fear by many people who are able to see themselves in this prediction and want to suppress any further thoughts or involvement. ~ Papa

  2. michael says:


    You mentioned that “…fear by many people who are able to see themselves in this prediction and what to suppress any further thoughts or involvement” as being perhaps one reason that so many are “insensitive” to the homeless and their needs…

    Just within the last month or so, I read a news article containing a poll which stated that over 84 percent of Americans have, at one time or another worried about becoming homeless themselves. Despite that high number however, homelessness it not high on the list of things people are willing to discuss.

    So, yes… you are correct. It is a way to avoid facing their own “demons.”

    – m –

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