As heat intensifies, Portland gears up to support homeless population
Here's how Portland is supporting its most vulnerable residents amid a heatwave that could break records.
Through the weekend, RealFeel temperatures exceeding triple digits are expected across the northwestern U.S., where many homes don't have air conditioning.
As a grueling heat wave grips the Northwest, cities are bracing for record-breaking temperatures. The heat is set to break daily, monthly -- even all-time records, according to AccuWeather forecasters, leaving those experiencing homelessness particularly vulnerable.
Folks in Portland, Oregon, are gearing up to ensure that people without homes can have some respite from the smothering temperatures. According to officials, there are about 3,800 people experiencing homelessness in the northwestern city on a nightly basis.
Crews were handing out water bottles and electrolyte packets to those in need, and cooling centers in Multnomah County were opened for 24 hours, starting Friday afternoon. Public libraries are also open from noon to 6 p.m. on Friday, and from noon to 8 p.m Saturday through Monday.
The county encouraged people in need to call 2-1-1 for a ride to the cooling centers.
Pedestrians walk on a sidewalk next to a homeless encampment as temperatures continue to soar past 115-degrees Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
“With the heat wave right now, the teams are focusing on getting water out, making sure people have cooling towels, letting them know where cooling stations are,” said Ieiasha Bolian, the supervisor of street outreach and the navigation team at Transition Projects -- an organization that provides support to Portland’s most vulnerable residents.
Summer heat waves in the Pacific Northwest are commonplace, but this will be extreme for that part of the country, AccuWeather forecasters warned. In Portland, temperatures could exceed 110 degrees Fahrenheit. There’s a chance that Oregon can reach its all-time high of 117 degrees, which was first recorded in 1939, according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Jessica Storm.
Dr. Jennifer Vines, Multnomah County’s health officer, called the heat wave “life-threatening.”
“People need to find someplace cool to spend time during the coming days. And for people who already have somewhere cool, their job is to reach out to other people. Ask them to join you, or help them get to a place that is reasonably cool,” Vines said in a statement.
Last year, high temperatures over Labor Day weekend took a devastating toll on people experiencing homelessness in California. A total of 19 people experiencing homelessness died over the three-day weekend in Southern California, KCRW reported. The tally is about double the average number of deaths in a three-day span. At least three died from heat-related causes on that Sunday.
Bolian said that teams are out five days per week, distributing lunch, cooling towels and water to people experiencing homelessness. The team works on some weekends, including this one, Bolian said.
AccuWeather Senior Vice President of Forecasting Jonathan Porter stressed the importance of community outreach for those who are especially vulnerable to such extreme weather.
"Extra care may be needed for younger children, for elderly people and those with additional problems," Porter said. He added that there is "a real danger from being outside" for lengthy amounts of time in such intense heat.
Transition Projects distributes between 400 and 600 lunches per week, Bolian said. So far this week, Bolian said the group has distributed around 800 water bottles and about 400 gallons of water, she said.
Denis Theriault, the communication coordinator for the advocacy group A Home for Everyone, said that crews distributed kits that contained sunscreen, water bottles and electrolyte powder, among other items.
“It’s going to be miserable for a lot of people over the next three days,” he said.
Crews with the Portland Rescue Mission are also delivering water, food and clean clothes with the organization’s outreach van, according to a statement provided by the director of marketing, Mike Deckon. The organization’s Burnside Shelter is open 24 hours a day to provide water, bathrooms, among other vital services to anyone, the statement added.
“Thousands spend day and night outdoors through circumstances that have been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement added.
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