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With worsening heat waves, unhoused people are especially vulnerable. Here's how you can help.

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Sign found at tents near Parker Road and I-225 in Aurora. 

DENVER — Coloradans will experience some intense heat in July, with highs in the Denver area likely hitting the triple digits. Temperatures are expected to approach record highs for this time of year, and local meteorologists say people should “prepare for one of the hottest (and longest) stretches [of heat] in recent Front Range memory.”

While intense heat poses a risk to anyone who is unprepared, such weather is especially dangerous and life threatening to individuals in vulnerable situations, like those struggling with homelessness.

“Hot temperatures lead to dehydration, and dehydration exacerbates everything,” said Benjamin Dunning.

Dunning is the historian and one of the original co-founders for Denver Homeless Out Loud, an advocacy group for people experiencing homelessness.

“The effects [of excessive heat] typically exacerbate things that would normally be minor in a person’s life that they manage, health-wise, and would turn them into points of crisis,” Dunning said.

As PBS NewsHour recently reported, heat-related deaths in the United States hit an all-time high in 2021, and this year is expected to be worse in terms of high temperatures. Scientists recently confirmed that climate change is causing more extreme heat waves, like last year’s brutal heat wave in the Northwest that is believed to have killed hundreds of people.

[Related: Researchers can now explain how climate change is affecting your weather]

In the United States, heat contributes to roughly 1,500 deaths per year, and the Associated Press reports that advocates believe about half of those individuals are unhoused. The problem is only getting worse, with exposure to extreme heat tripling over the last three decades. Just last month, a cyclist died in Grand Junction after running out of water on a day where temperatures reached 102 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dunning said in the Denver area, local governments and individuals can take basic steps to help protect people experiencing homelessness during heat waves.

“How we can respond as a community — number one is water,” Dunning said. “The next thing is people's access to shade, covered places. If it’s blazing hot outside, be okay with someone sitting in an air conditioned coffee shop for a few hours to beat the heat.”

Denverite recently reported that nearly half of the city's water fountains are not working.

Dunning said the City and County of Denver could set up cooling stations that provide water, shade and a place to rest. In the winter, Denver opens warming stations during especially cold weather. But during extreme heat, the city encourages unhoused people to use rec centers and libraries during business hours to cool off. (Information on emergency shelters for unhoused people is available here.)

Dunning added one of the ways in which the city “abuses our homeless” is through sweeps — when city officials remove unsanctioned encampments — which Dunning said are more harmful during high-temperature days.

“The sweeps happen in the early morning hours, which are the best sleeping hours because it’s still cool [outside] for people to rest,” Dunning explained. “And by displacing them during that time of day … you wind up affecting people’s sleep cycles, which much like dehydration affects all other kinds of things.”

[Related: New study shows the impact of encampment sweeps on Denver's unhoused population]

The City and County Denver provides the following tips for dealing with extreme heat:

  • Stay inside in air-conditioned buildings as much as possible. Air conditioning is the number one way to protect yourself against heat-related illness. If your home is not air-conditioned, visit one of Denver’s cooling stations
  • Drink more water than usual and don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink
  • Fans will not prevent heat-related illness in extreme heat, instead take cool showers or baths to cool down 
  • Don’t use the stove or oven to cook—it will make you and your house hotter
  • Don’t drink alcohol or beverages that contain caffeine
  • Limit your outdoor activity, especially during the middle of the day when the sun is hottest

More information on extreme heat, including how to keep pets safe, is available here. Below, you can find resources on ways to help.

Monetary Donations

If you are able to, donating money to organizations working to end homelessness can have a large impact on their work. There are many organizations in the Denver area, such as:


Volunteer Opportunities

If you are unable to donate money to organizations, you can find many ways to help by volunteering your time. Other than the organizations listed above, you can also seek out mutual aid groups in your area. Mutual aid is community-driven support for those who need it, with the goal to uplift and help one another in the face of systems that are not meeting the needs of the people. 


Resources for those experiencing homelessness

If you or someone you know is experiencing homelessness, here is a collection of resource lists with details on where you can get assistance. 

Kyle Cooke is the digital media manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at

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