Jun 20, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Homeless people at risk of dying from extreme heat

A "Heat Kills" sign at Capitol Reef National Park outside of Torrey, Utah.
A "Heat Kills" sign at Capitol Reef National Park outside of Torrey, Utah. Photo: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Extreme heat has caused hundreds of deaths among the U.S. homeless population, the Associated Press reports.

Why it matters: Heat waves are an acute public health threat, since heat ranks as the top weather-related killer in the U.S. on average each year, per Axios' Andrew Freedman. Vulnerable populations without access to cooling are particularly at risk.

  • For the past two weeks, extreme heat has broken records from the Southwest to the Plains and Midwest, contributing to wildfires and severe thunderstorms that knocked out power to hundreds of thousands across the Midwest.
  • It shows no sign of letting up: the heat is forecasted to shift south and southeastward during the week likely breaking temperature records in Atlanta, Nashville, Memphis, Little Rock, and St. Louis.

By the numbers: Severe heat kills at least 1,500 deaths annually, AP reports, and around half of those deaths are among homeless people advocates say.

What they're saying: "If 130 homeless people were dying in any other way it would be considered a mass casualty event," Kristie Ebi, a professor of global health at the University of Washington, told AP.

The big picture: More than 356,000 people died from extreme-heat-related causes across nine countries in 2019, according to a pair of studies published in The Lancet.

People without cooling access in cities are vulnerable to extreme heat, especially when overnight temperatures remain high.

What we're watching: States and cities are making efforts to improve conditions for homeless people.

  • Oregon has opened 24-hour cooling centers, while also handing out water and popsicles to homeless encampments.
  • Boston has been looking to increase its tree canopy and expand the number of cooling centers available during heat waves.

Go deeper ... Heat wave to migrate from Midwest to the South this week

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