We at UCAN strategically plan to best use limited resources to meet pressing community needs. But sometimes, emergencies arise outside the strategic planning process that call for urgent response.
As early as July 31, NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) predicted our area would likely see hotter than normal temperatures in August. But nobody foresaw we would exceed temperatures of 100 degrees for several days. After all, a 2022 study found that the last such heat wave, in 2021, was a “freak event that should only happen once in 10,000 years.” (as reported by OPB on September 28, 2022).
Yet mid-August saw multiple days in both Douglas and Josephine County with temperatures over 100 degrees, soaring over 110 degrees in some locations. The 2021 event resulted in the deaths of at least 116 people in Oregon. Many of those who died were folks who were marginalized members of our communities, isolated seniors and homeless individuals.
Understanding the danger high heat brings to the low-income folks we serve, as soon as we learned that a heat wave was in the offing, we sprang into action. Our Utility Assistance Program Manager arranged for delivery of 96 room ac units from the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), and found space to store the units. The units arrived on August 10th, three days before the expected start of the heat wave.
Word went out to all staff the next morning that units were available. Residents eligible for units were those most vulnerable to heat, including seniors, medically fragile children, and those with chronic health conditions. It took just two days to distribute all units to both Douglas and Josephine County residents. Rapid distribution required coordinating our utility program staff, our facilities team, as well as housing and homeless program staff. With units in place, almost 100 households were able to have cold air in their homes while temperatures continued well above 100 degrees for several days.
As important as it is to stay cool in hot weather, staying hydrated is even more important. This is especially challenging for folks living in homeless camps, who may lack access to water near where they live. Homeless service and veteran program staff together delivered much needed water and supplies to homeless individuals living in both Douglas and Josephine County. Together with others, such as the Roseburg Senior Center and the Myrtle Creek Library which opened cooling centers, we know that fast action such as this prevented much suffering.