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This past year has been exceptionally difficult for people experiencing homelessness. For starters, they faced increased vulnerability to COVID-19 due to underlying health conditions, lack of access to proper medical care, and reliance on group settings, such as shelters and encampments.
But we also know that homelessness was on the rise even before the pandemic. According to the most recent data available from HUD, the number of individual adults experiencing homelessness grew by seven percent on a given night in 2020, with some of the most vulnerable people with disabilities leading the increase. It is also both noteworthy and troubling that for the first time since HUD began the Point-in-Time count, the number of single adults living outside exceeded the number of single adults in shelters.
If all this weren’t enough, in recent weeks a dangerous heat wave took over much of the West Coast, sending temperatures into triple digits. Some of the areas with the highest unsheltered rates in the nation – including regions in California, Washington, and Oregon – were hit with particularly brutal heat waves. In many of these communities, there was not sufficient infrastructure to keep the broader population safe from the heat. This is to say nothing of the dangers faced by those living unsheltered, and specifically of the aging homeless population, who will struggle with exacerbated chronic health issues, appropriate storage of vital medications, and overall increased risks from dehydration.
Although the media didn’t extensively cover the impact of the extreme heat on people experiencing homelessness, local homeless providers and advocates jumped into action. Hydration centers were set up and outreach workers across cities worked feverishly to hand out necessities like water, popsicles, and cooling rags to people in dire need.
Undoubtedly, this cycle will continue this summer.
Read the full article about heat waves and homelessness by Chandra Crawford and Christina Miller at National Alliance to End Homelessness.