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How to help unhoused Angelenos during the heat wave

A helicopter approaches Long Beach Airport as the sun sets.
The intense heat wave is expected to last through Labor Day weekend.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
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California is headed toward 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 suffering heat-related illnesses during heat waves, those who are unhoused are even more vulnerable.

Mayer Dahan, founder of the Dream Builders Project, a nonprofit that assembles and distributes care packages to unhoused people, said that now more than ever Angelenos need to “activate” themselves and respond to the needs of the unhoused community.

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Here are some ideas of what you can do.

During a heat wave

Mayra Lozano, director of community outreach for WaterDrop LA, a skid row nonprofit, said that above all, people need water.

WaterDrop LA recently challenged Angelenos on Twitter to take 20 minutes out of their day to hand out chilled water bottles to their unhoused neighbors. Lozano said this is something anyone can do.

Under extreme conditions, excessive sweating can cause serious health problems. Supplemental electrolytes — from a sports drink or other sources — can help prevent heat stroke, said Cat Kim, board director for the SELAH Neighborhood Homeless Coalition.

Cooling towels, hats and umbrellas, Kim said, are other things that you can think about giving to an unhoused person. Ice packs from meal-delivery services are also great to give out.

Sarah Ginsburg, an organizer with the Mutual Aid Network and Los Angeles Community Fridges, said she encourages people to bring water bottles to their nearest LA Community Fridge.

She also said that people can keep frozen and cold water with them in their cars to hand out.

When talking with an unhoused person, encourage them to seek shade or refuge from the sun. You can direct them to public libraries, she said, or cooling centers run by the county.

The Midnight Mission aims to help as more homeless people face heat-related illness.

At any time

Unhoused people need assistance not just when temperatures are breaking records.

Kim said that food is just as important as water. Soft foods can be best for people who lack access to regular dental care. Nutrigrain bars and nonperishable foods high in vitamins and solid carbohydrates are good options.

Access to fresh fruit is also limited. Bananas provide needed nutrients and vitamins while being easy to transport and store.

Lozano said that WaterDrop LA focuses on needs other than water too. Basic necessities like socks, body wipes and masks to protect against COVID-19 are always in high demand. Shelter items like tents or tarps are also needed.

The high-pressure system over most of California is expected to bring record-breaking temperatures, part of a “self-perpetuating” system that is becoming more extreme as climate change worsens.

What else you can do

While providing water and electrolytes can help with immediate needs, you can also advocate for long-term solutions for homelessness, Dahan said.

“While these people really, they do appreciate the supplies, especially if they’re specialized,” he said, “everybody understands that these are not real resolutions.”

Dahan encouraged Angelenos to “take those next steps” and contact local government officials and advocate for the housing and homelessness crisis to be addressed.

He acknowledged that this issue can be overwhelming. But instead of turning away, he said, try to find one cause you’re passionate about within the bigger issue. If you’re passionate about helping single mothers, for example, research and volunteer with local groups that work with that specific population. Same applies to veterans or those with disabilities.

At the end of the day, Lozano said, do what you can.

“I want folks to know that you can help in any way, and it would be appreciated,” she said. “Folks who are experiencing homelessness, they’re our neighbors, and there’s a sense of responsibility that we should all have to make sure that everyone’s OK.”

A temporary watering ban in Los Angeles County will allow workers to repair a leaking pipeline that connects residents to Colorado River water.

Other nonprofits you can help

Several nonprofits in Southern California are mobilizing to distribute water and other goods to unhoused people.

  • Midnight Mission: This skid row nonprofit works to provide direct aid to those experiencing homelessness. The organization is in dire need of water during this time of extreme heat and drought. Donations can be made on their website.
  • Mutual Aid LA: The group conducts outreach every week in Lincoln Heights and Echo Park and doubles its efforts during heat waves. They’re accepting donations through GoFundMe.
  • Palms Unhoused Mutual Aid: This group serves its neighbors from Mid-City to Palms. Throughout the heat heave, it’s in need of volunteers who can check in with unhoused neighbors and distribute cold water. It also needs volunteers to store water in their fridges — the group can organize to pick up water and distribute it. To get involved send an email to palmsunhousedmutualaid@gmail.com.
  • Lucky Duck Foundation: The San Diego-based organization is looking for monetary donations to help fund their food and water program and the community care package program, which provides things like hygiene products and clothing. Donations can be made on their website.

Times staff writer Karen Garcia contributed to this report.

An excessive heat watch is in place for much of Southern California this week. Keep yourself, your kids and your pets safe during hot temperatures with these tips.


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