Extreme Heat Responsible for Growing Death Rates Among Unhoused People

Extreme heat events like the ‘heat dome’ that baked Southern California last summer kill a disproportionate number of people experiencing homelessness, who have fewer resources to protect themselves from the scorching sun.

2 minute read

February 21, 2023, 12:00 PM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Unhoused tents under shade canopies in downtown Los Angeles, California

Unhoused people seek shade under canopies in downtown Los Angeles. | Logan Bush / Unhoused people in Los Angeles, California

Extreme heat waves are responsible for a growing number of deaths among unhoused people in Los Angeles, reports Summer Lin in the Los Angeles Times. “Although the unhoused population represents about 70,000 of Los Angeles County’s more than 9.8 million people, they accounted for nearly half — 5 in 12 — of deaths from heat illness or heat exposure last year, according to data from the coroner’s office.”

As Lin explains, “Heat-related illness and death are “notoriously” undercounted because patients in emergency rooms are frequently diagnosed with other medical conditions, such as dehydration and kidney failure, without any mention of their high temperatures and exposure to heat, according to David Eisenman, a professor specializing in climate change at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.”

Larry Kalkstein, the president of Applied Climatologists, estimates that up to 2,000 people die of heat-related causes every year, which would make heat deadlier than hurricanes, tornadoes, and snowstorms. This number will only rise as climate change causes longer and more severe heat waves, and unhoused people face some of the highest risks.

“More than a quarter of the lives lost during heat waves could have been saved if cities implemented measures to provide tree canopy, vegetation and reflective materials in roofing, sidewalks and other infrastructure, according to a March 2022 article co-written by [UCLA researcher Edith De Guzman].” In addition to these measures, cities can make more cooling centers available to all residents, so unhoused people don’t have to rely on private businesses that may be hostile to them.

Sunday, February 19, 2023 in Los Angeles Times

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