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Homeless residents particularly vulnerable during excessive heat

From the onset of the coronavirus pandemic to a lack of affordable housing amidst a rapidly growing population, homeless residents of the Magic Valley have been hit with one obstacle after another
Published: Jun. 30, 2021 at 10:22 AM MDT
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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) — For many people, when they wake up in the morning and see it’s going to be hot outside, they can put on summer clothing and grab a bottle of water on their way out the door; but access to basic amenities like those is not easy for everyone.

From the onset of the coronavirus pandemic to a lack of affordable housing amidst a rapidly growing population, homeless residents of the Magic Valley have been hit with one obstacle after another. Now, scorching temperatures are added into the mix, putting an already vulnerable population even more at risk.

“Often when we’re facing crises, it’s inequities that come out in this moment,” said National Health Care for the Homeless Council Director of Clinical and Quality Improvement Courtney Pladsen, who is also a nurse practitioner.

Those who are homeless often face larger medical burdens like asthma, which puts them at increased risk for heat-related health issues. They can also lack basic necessities such as clothing, clean water or sunscreen, and after being exposed day-after-day to the elements, health problems can increasingly get worse.

“We’re often seeing folks who in a moment might be getting sunburnt, but the next day it puts them at higher risk for heatstroke,” Pladsen said.

Homeless children additionally become dehydrated more quickly than their adult counterparts.

“Often signs of dehydration [in children] are late signs, so they become sick very, very quickly,” Pladsen said.

The Valley House Homeless Shelter in Twin Falls offers housing, but as of Tuesday, they are at capacity. While they have not overall seen an uptick in calls during the present heatwave, they have seen more interest from one demographic.

“We are getting a lot more calls from single men needing a place to live, and I think it’s because they’re out in the heat and don’t have anywhere to go,” said Valley House Homeless Shelter Director John Spiers.

Valley House does still do what it can to help local homeless residents, however.

“We’ve picked up our supplies of water bottles, Spiers said. “We’ve been freezing them so they last longer for the people who come in.”

With affordable housing lacking in the area and shelters filled, some may turn to sleeping in their car, but doing so can be dangerous.

“That’s actually more dangerous than sleeping in tents,” Pladsen said. “There are certainly people who have died during those extreme temperatures while sleeping in cars.”

A construction project to increase the capacity at Valley House is still ongoing and the hope is it will be completed by year’s end. In the meantime, it’s not getting any cooler outside and the Federal Eviction Moratorium issued by the CDC that is currently in place in Idaho is set to expire on July 31st.

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