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Local groups prepare vulnerable Milwaukeeans for extreme weather conditions

Close up view on HVAC units (heating, ventilation and air conditioning).
Stock Adobe
Close up view on HVAC units (heating, ventilation and air conditioning).

The summer heat is finally beginning to cool down, but the heat waves are just beginning in the region. Recent forecasts of weather trends show the Milwaukee-area at the tip of a major heat belt emerging in the central midwestern U.S.. In the coming decades, heat waves are likely to become more frequent and more dangerous, with temperatures that can cause health problems and even death.

With an aging population and housing, Milwaukeeans are especially vulnerable to intense weather changes. As energy prices go up, it's become more expensive to heat or cool aging homes that aren't energy efficient, and access to air conditioning units (including fans) becomes more unattainable.

"When there is a heat wave we often times have situations where the home itself will not have air conditioning and [the resident's] sources of funds to access these services or access something that would be even equivalent to a fan or any kind of air conditioning unit, are nonexistent," says Lynnea Katz-Petted, CEO of Revitalize Milwaukee, which recently got a grant to help weatherize Milwaukee homes and put in air conditioning units.

Intense heat can exacerbate health conditions and create new health problems, according to Dr. Stephanie Findley, the managing director of the Findley Foundation. Her organization holds clinics in Milwaukee neighborhoods where poor housing conditions and access to care compound the effects of extreme weather.

Findley explains, "Heat exhaustion can kill you if you don't have anything to keep an individual cool ... If you have hypertension, there's a chance that you will have swelling due to the heat... may not have air conditioning, but if we can get them some box fans and we can get them bags of ice that they can use to keep their areas cool, that will be able to help."

That's where community partnerships come in. Both Findley and Katz-Petted say community partnerships are a vital part of identifying people in need and connecting them with the resources that can help them. Dr. Eve Hall, CEO of the Greater Milwaukee Urban League, says her organization is focused on connecting each of these organizations in the area to create a larger safety net that can catch people who might otherwise slip through the cracks of coverage.

"Our role as an urban advocacy organization is for us to really look at some policies and practices... so that we can really advocate when we see these inflationary prices and we know the impact on our families, or the non-responsiveness sometimes from departments that should be responding to a lot of the concerns," says Hall.

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Joy Powers hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2016.
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