Last year, two heat-induced deaths on Hunnell Road prompted the City of Bend and local nonprofits to pitch in some relief.
This week, the temperatures are edging toward the hundreds once again, and folks in the houseless community are bracing for impact.
Michelle Hester, who has lived on Hunnell Road for almost a year, said conditions right now are “horrible, hot and sweaty.”
“It’s making everybody irritable,” she said.
A single water faucet set up on the side of the road by the City of Bend last week served as a sign of the rising temperatures.
“We’ll probably be dunking our heads underneath it and taking turns doing that, because there’s just one of them,” said Smokey, who has lived on Hunnell Road for eight years.
He said the temperatures so far have been very bearable compared to last summer.
Shadow has lived on the road with her cat, Garfield, for almost two years.
“As far as I know, if it gets too hot or whatever I just go get a gallon of water and dump it on my head,” she said, noting that she had done that very thing on Monday morning to wash her hair.
Temperatures in Bend reached 89 degrees on Monday, and were set to hit 98 degrees on Tuesday.
That’s the hottest day of the year so far, but still a far cry from the stretch of days above 100 degrees last summer that contributed to two deaths on Hunnell Road.
When the heat wave hit in late June 2021, Shepherd’s House Ministries had just opened their permanent emergency shelter on 2nd Street. About 30 days later, the severe conditions drove them to open during the day, even though they were only operating as a night shelter at that time.
They currently run the location 24/7 as a navigation center.
“If we were to have that kind of severe heat wave again and people needed to get out of the heat in large numbers, we would probably suspend our day navigation activities, just to make more room for the people who need to get out of the hundred degree weather,” said John Lodise, the Director of Emergency Services.
The summer heat this year hasn’t yet caused a jump in numbers, but now, they’re prepared for the worst case scenario.
“It’s hard to predict, but from what we saw last year when it got hotter, our numbers did go up significantly,” Lodise said. “We were having about 30 people a night before it got that hot, then our numbers jumped up to 60 a night. Never went back down after that.”
The shelter now houses 90 to 100 people on a regular night, even when temperatures are mild.
Lodise said he isn’t worried about capacity, since the daytime hours would be the most crucial if the temperatures reached extremes.
“It always worries us when something happens that could put people in danger, and that’s why we want to be open 24/7, so that we can be here more for when people need that kind of help,” he said.
Until that happens again, they will continue their Project Share and mobile shower outreach programs at various locations around the city.
That includes Hunnell Road, where people said they would do what they can to help each other if the weather takes another turn for the worse.
“I really hope they have air conditioning in their buses, and if not, I’m going to be fixing air conditionings and delivering water and making runs to the store for ice,” said Scarie, another resident of Hunnell Road.
“I don’t want anybody else out here to die,” Smokey added. “If somebody’s got to go, I’ll take it.”
The City of Bend said on Monday that they will continue to work with the local REACH organization to provide transportation, water containers, and cooling tents as temperatures rise.
REACH provides 60 hours of mobile case management and outreach each month, providing resources for roughly 150 individuals.