Over the last week, large swaths of the nation have seen the first major emergency heat wave of the summer. And it’s safe to say that it won’t be the last one.

Just about everyone in the human services sector knows this cycle. In anticipation of just such events, many communities spent the previous months formulating “summer plans” to help flex up services and resources to accommodate seasonal heat emergencies. And, of course, that usually involves asking local leaders and donors to help fund this expanded work. A similar cycle takes place in anticipation of winter emergencies.

These efforts make a difference. We all know how dangerous extreme heat can be to people experiencing homelessness. We all know how it can aggravate medical conditions and affect medications. And we all know how essential street outreach is at these moments, when people are at increased risk of heat stroke, dehydration, and cardiovascular events.

Yet, every year people still tragically suffer or die in the indignity of the elements.

These seasonal events serve as a reminder of just how stretched our systems are, and how difficult it is to accommodate stress tests. And while many local leaders are eager to step up and support relief efforts, it shouldn’t take a weather emergency to have the resources needed to serve everyone who needs help.

What Can We Do About It?

Weather emergencies make us all feel powerless. Yet, there are a number of important things that every community can do to be more prepared for when an emergency strikes.

Perhaps the very most important step is to have a dedicated, year-long focus on unsheltered homelessness.

The reason is obvious: people who are unsheltered face the greatest risk during weather emergencies. But it’s also essential to recognize that the impact of broadly reducing unsheltered homelessness would also reduce the scale of resources spent each year on seasonal preparedness planning.

Read the full article about disaster preparedness and homelessness by Tom Murphy at National Alliance to End Homelessness.