California is heading for its worst heat wave of the year, experts say. Temperatures are expected to reach up to 115 degrees in some areas.
And while everyone is at risk of heat-related illnesses during heat waves, homeless people are even more vulnerable.
Mayer Dahan, founder of the Dream Builders Project, a nonprofit that assembles and distributes care packages for homeless people, said now more than ever, Angelenos need to “get active” and respond to the needs of the homeless community.
Here are some ideas of what you can do.
During a heat wave
Mayra Lozano, director of community outreach for nonprofit WaterDrop LA, said people need water first.
WaterDrop LA recently challenged Angelenos on Twitter to take 20 minutes out of their day to distribute bottles of chilled water to their homeless neighbors. Lozano said it’s something anyone can do.
In extreme conditions, excessive sweating can lead to serious health issues. Supplemental electrolytes — from a sports drink or other sources — can help prevent heat stroke, said Cat Kim, board director of the SELAH neighborhood homeless coalition.
Cooling towels, hats and umbrellas, Kim said, are other things you can think of giving someone homeless. Ice packs from meal delivery services are also great for handing out.
Sarah Ginsburg, organizer of the Mutual Aid Network and Los Angeles Community Refrigerators, said she encourages people to bring bottles of water to the nearest Los Angeles community refrigerator.
She also said people could keep frozen, cold water with them in their car to distribute.
When talking to someone who is homeless, encourage them to seek shade or shelter from the sun. You can direct them to public libraries, she said, or county-run cooling centers.
Homeless people need help, not just when temperatures are breaking records.
Kim said food is just as important as water. Soft foods may be better for people who don’t have access to regular dental care. Nutrigrain bars and non-perishable foods high in vitamins and solid carbohydrates are good options.
Access to fresh fruit is also limited. Bananas provide necessary nutrients and vitamins while being easy to transport and store.
Lozano said WaterDrop LA also focuses on needs other than water. Necessities like socks, body wipes and masks to protect against COVID-19 are still in high demand. Shelter items like tents or tarps are also needed.
What else can you do
While providing water and electrolytes can meet immediate needs, you can also advocate for long-term solutions for homelessness, Dahan said.
“Although these people really appreciate the supplies, especially if they’re specialized,” he said, “everyone understands that these aren’t real resolutions.”
Dahan encouraged Angelenos to “take those next steps” and reach out to local authorities and advocate for the housing and homelessness crisis to be resolved.
He acknowledged that this problem can be overwhelming. But instead of turning away, he said, try to find a cause you’re passionate about as part of a larger issue. If you’re passionate about helping single mothers, for example, research and volunteer with local groups that work with that specific population. The same goes for veterans or people with disabilities.
At the end of the day, Lozano said, do what you can.
“I want people to know that you can help in any way, and that would be appreciated,” she said. “People who are homeless are our neighbours, and there is a sense of responsibility we should all have to make sure everyone is okay.”
Other nonprofits you can help
Several associations in Southern California are mobilizing to distribute water and other goods to homeless people.
- Midnight Mission: This non-profit organization works to provide direct help to homeless people. The organization badly needs water in this period of extreme heat and drought. Donations can be made on their website.
- Mutual Aid LA: The group conducts outreach activities weekly in Lincoln Heights and Echo Park and ramps up efforts during heat waves. They accept donations through GoFundMe.
- Mutual Aid Palms Unhoused: This group serves its neighbors from Mid-City to Palms. Throughout the heat wave, he needs volunteers who can check in with homeless neighbors and distribute cold water. They also need volunteers to store water in their refrigerators — the group can organize to fetch water and distribute it. To get involved, email email@example.com.
- Lucky Duck Foundation: The San Diego-based organization is seeking monetary donations to help fund its Food and Water Program and the Community Care Program, which provides hygiene products and clothing. Donations can be made on their website.
Times editor Karen Garcia contributed to this report.
Los Angeles Times