Concern grows for Oakland homeless residents amid heatwave

As oppressive, record-setting heat remains around the Bay Area, there’s growing concern for those living in homeless encampments and on the streets.

Advocates and first responders say unhoused residents are at the highest risk for dehydration, heat stroke and other medical emergencies.

Love and Justice in the Streets loaded up a minivan filled with cases of water and large bags of ice early Tuesday in Alameda, with a plan to deliver it to several Oakland encampments.

"This is a life and death situation," said volunteer Talya Husbands-Hankin. "We’re going to do everything we can to fill up just this one minivan multiple times throughout the day."

Seen as a lifeline, volunteers handed out hundreds of bottles of water to people and animals in need.

But it’s a drop in the bucket with crowded camps exposed to the hot weather and blistering sun.

"It’s really hard," said unhoused resident Jared Defigh. "I’m thankful for the breeze but I have to find a place to stay under shade. My tent gets way too hot during the day."

At the sprawling Wood Street encampment in Oakland, residents have pooled their resources to keep cool.

Several coolers were filled with water and other drinks and found under a tent for any neighbors to grab and stay hydrated.

"It’s miserable especially when you don’t have any shade structures," said longtime resident John Janosko. "Everyone around here takes care of one another."

Janosko said many times they depend on donations to survive. A nonprofit just gave the unhoused residents a $3,000 solar refrigerator that does not require electricity. They say they hope to have it up and running in the next day or so to keep more items cold.

"It’s nice that the community is supportive of us and helping us survive basically," he said.

Which is why the City of Oakland says its community responders and emergency medical technicians are out on the streets to check-up on the most vulnerable.

For many unhoused residents, they’re considered an older population, have illnesses, diseases, or other medical problems, making them more likely to suffer amid a heatwave.

"We also use this opportunity to remind people in this community that we can attempt to get you into a shelter," EMT Rick Fitzsimmons said. "We also have a list of cooling centers where people from the street can go into, get out of the sick and kick back in a chair."

Those Oakland cooling centers are a vital community resource and solution to keep the unhoused from needing immediate medical attention.

The community responders are also passing out water and educating the unhoused to avoid alcohol and the sun, which increases hydration.

While they know some may not listen or consider housing options, building relationships is key to taking care of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

"We just want to help people the best we can," Fitzsimmons said. "It can be rough to see this and go through this but it’s a strong reminder for me personally that this could be anybody."

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @BrooksKTVU