The recent extreme heat in Orange County has posed problems for community members, especially people experiencing homelessness and people with pre-existing conditions.
Many organizations — including the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service, the Orange County Public Library and the Chapel Hill Public Library — have opened their doors to allow people to cool off and receive help during the July and August heat. Showers are also available to the public at the Chapel Hill Community Center, the Hargraves Community Center and the Homestead Aquatic Center.
Xuewei Wang, a data scientist at Data-Driven EnviroLab, said heat can have negative effects on vulnerable communities, especially if they do not have access to cooling or green spaces.
“I definitely believe the more severe, more frequent heat wave will have more impact on unhealthy populations, especially people with conditions,” she said.
Wang said the lab is having discussions with the Town of Chapel Hill about building more green spaces for shade. She also said she has seen success with painting roads lighter so they can reflect the heat instead of absorbing it.
Rachel Waltz, the manager of the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness, said the OCPEH works with similar organizations to increase permanent housing options and provide emergency response services for those experiencing homelessness. She said homelessness can increase the risk of heat exposure and health impacts.
“Folks who are living unsheltered are at greater risk for all of those health conditions that are often times made worse by extreme weather,” Waltz said.
Obtaining outpatient healthcare services is harder for people experiencing homelessness, which causes a heavier reliance on emergency services, she said.
“Communities need to just increase permanent housing options for folks, but they also need to be working together to bring their individual expertise together in order to mitigate the health concerns and health risk,” she said.