Fires, Flooding, and Extreme Heat: How CBOs Address Emergency Needs


food and water

Natural disasters are plaguing communities all around the country, hurting the most vulnerable, many of whom are living in poverty and already facing insurmountable obstacles.

On the West Coast, heat temperatures have reached record-breaking levels. Concrete is buckling, electric lines are overheating, and countless Americans are facing life-threatening health conditions. In California and other parts of the West, wildfires have ignited and are unlikely to stop, with the Lava Fire burning across more than 5,366 acres. In Michigan, a rare flooding event hit communities from Metro Detroit to Ann Arbor, flooding more than 100,000 homes and closing countless businesses and organizations.

These weather-related phenomenons are tragedies in any community, but those living without air conditioning, electricity, shelter, or emergency savings are put in devastating situationsand community-based organizations (CBOs) are a saving grace

During natural disasters, CBOs become a lifeline

For families living in poverty, summer can be a difficult time of the year. Crime rates rise. Hunger becomes more prevalent. Work may stop, as many parents can’t afford child care. Children fall behind in education, as summer programs are either too expensive or inaccessible. And many face the risk of homelessness.

Weather-related conditions like droughts, tornadoes, and flooding can leave low-income families struggling. 

While natural disasters don’t discriminate, prevention and relief efforts are harder to attain when you’re living in poverty with little to no support. Many families, elderly residents, and other vulnerable community members don’t have the financial means to stay at a hotel, buy air-conditioners, stock up on safety supplies, or repair damages to their homes. Even applying for federal relief funds can be a challenge. 

In States of Emergency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and local medical personnel aren’t the only ones providing critical services. Social service providers are on the frontlines, alongside disaster-relief workers, providing much-needed services

The big organizations–American Red Cross, United Way, and The Salvation Armyare, of course, instrumental during natural disasters, but what about the thousands of other organizations that provide relief and recovery services? Many go unrecognized and unappreciated in times of crisis, even if they’re providing critical services in their local communities.

In California, amidst the wildfires, Siskiyou Community Food Bank, is working with local partners to provide meals to evacuees. In Oregon, where the historic heatwave has put many in harm’s way, Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare has delivered thousands of water bottles and care items to vulnerable Oregonians. In Michigan, where the flooding continues, the Heat and Warmth Fund (THAW) is providing rent and utility assistance, including water, sewer, and electricity support, to Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park residents. These are just a few of the organizations that are working overtime to make sure needs are met.

Types of disaster relief services provided

Many CBOs support disaster-prone communities during times of crisis. We've seen this happen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as organizations have stepped in to provide delivered meals, at-home care, coordination support, health care resources, utility relief, mental health support, and other emergency services. 

When natural disasters strike, CBOs can be found on the ground, providing dozens of services, including, but not limited to:

  • Emergency shelters
  • Temporary housing
  • Financial assistance
  • Monetary support
  • Cooling and heating centers
  • Food delivery
  • Legal services
  • Utility assistance
  • Mental health crisis intervention support

Disaster preparedness, relief, and recovery is no easy task for a CBO. It requires extensive training. From mitigating risks to learning the incident command system (ICS) and following extensive protocols, CBOs ensure that emergency needs are met, even if they themselves are impacted. 

At Healthify, we recognize the hardship that is imposed on CBOs during natural disasters and we aim to become valued partners. By establishing relationships between payers and CBOs, we hope to meet the ongoing needs of vulnerable community members who live in disaster-prone areas. 

Natural disasters used to be few and far between, but with climate change, we’re seeing more and more crises and we want vulnerable communities to be prepared. That means addressing ongoing needs, from rent assistance to utility support. 

Learn more about the services offered in Healthify’s platform and how we’re building social service referral networks in vulnerable communities. Visit us here

Topics: healthcare delivery social determinants of health public health housing insecurity population health coordinated care COVID-19 sdoh michigan

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