Economics/Class Relations

COVID left Portland’s homeless population in crisis mode. Then the heat wave hit

By Environmental Justice Fellow, Grist

Advocates say cities need to dedicate more resources during extreme weather events to help those without stable housing.

When temperatures in Oregon hit 116 degrees Fahrenheit late last month, Portland resident Scott Kerman found he couldn’t stand outside for longer than 10 minutes without feeling like he might collapse. But his thoughts didn’t dwell long on his own discomfort. He was more worried for the city’s homeless population, which is especially vulnerable to extreme weather like heat waves.

“Climate change is a significant part of the houseless crisis and it hasn’t always necessarily been at the forefront when we talk about houselessness,” said Kerman, the executive director of Blanchet House, a nonprofit group that provides free meals, housing, and other services to housing-insecure Portlanders. “If we’re going to have colder winters and hotter summers then we have to be prepared for people who are unhoused or poorly housed continuing to die.”

At least 71 people are confirmed or suspected to have died of heat-related causes in Multnomah County — where Portland is located — during the weeklong June heat wave that shattered temperature records in Washington, Oregon, and the Canadian province of British Columbia. The actual number of deaths associated with the heat wave was likely much higher than the current count, Multnomah officials say, and is expected to rise as the county releases more information in the coming weeks.

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