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Take Action: How You Can Help The Unhoused During Heat Wave Emergencies

Updated: Jun 5

Photo by Jason McCann on Unsplash

As we enter the hot months of summer, many of us retreat to the comfort of our homes, protected from the sun and often cooled by fans and air conditioning. Unfortunately, escaping into the cool is a luxury that many can afford, and people experiencing homelessness find this luxury especially hard to come by.

Every year, thousands of lives are taken due to excessive heat, leading to more deaths than hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes combined, and it is getting worse. Between 2018 and 2021, there was an observed 56% increase in extreme heat-related deaths, totaling a recorded 1,577 deaths across the US in 2021. People experiencing homelessness represent a large part of this group, as many struggle to get out of the sun and heat during the summer months.

Climate change is a significant contributing factor to this increase in deaths. Heat waves are now occurring more frequently, more intensely, and even earlier in the year. Daily record temperatures have occurred twice as often as record lows across the United States in the last decade. Without a severe decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, daily high temperatures will increase by at least 5 degrees Fahrenheit by mid-century. Additionally, a recent study projects that the number of days with a heat index of above 100 degrees Fahrenheit will double, and days with a heat index of above 105 degrees Fahrenheit will triple in comparison to the end of the 20th century. With the global temperature rising each year, more measures need to be taken to actively combat climate change, thereby protecting our communities' most vulnerable populations.

What you can do:

  1. Create a summer support kit for those experiencing homelessness

Individuals experiencing homelessness often lack essentials that protect people in the heat. Here are some ideas on what you can put in your support kits to distribute:

  • Sunscreen

  • Aloe

  • Reusable water bottles

  • Baseball cap / hat

  • Portable fan

  • Umbrella

  • Water and snacks

  • Gift cards

  • Resource list of cooling centers in your city

Additionally, get a group together to hand out waters and ice pops!

  1. Advocate for your local government to open more cooling centers.

A cooling center is typically a cooled building that has been designated as a site to provide respite and safety during extreme heat for individuals in need. Cooling centers are vital in cities for individuals to escape the dangerous heat. Urge your local government to establish accessible cooling centers in all parts of your city and help communicate those locations to people in need. In particular, Mayor Michelle Wu recently opened 12 BCYF cooling centers for Boston residents. These cooling centers mark a significant government response to immense heat, but with evidence of stigma preventing people experiencing homelessness from accessing these centers, these changes still leave more to be desired.

With many more days of extreme heat looming, it is necessary that we continue to take measures to protect individuals experiencing homelessness from the changing environment.

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