July 28, 2022
Summer was already off to a rough start in Andrea Cox’s house.

Cox, an East County resident, didn’t have air conditioning at home. As the caretaker for her grandson who has special needs, she saw firsthand how the heat was affecting him.

Nighttime was the worst. The stuffy air in his bedroom made it hard for him to stay asleep. That made basic things even harder than they already were.

“Having a child with special needs, it made it harder because his days were harder,” Cox said. “He already struggles so much every day that any extra struggle we can remove is just another bonus for us.”

Everything changed when an outreach worker from Multnomah County Disability Services offered to connect Cox with an air conditioning unit. Within days, crews were out installing a unit in her grandson’s bedroom.

Data from last year’s deadly heat event showed an alarming trend: the majority of those most impacted by extreme heat lacked air conditioning units. Outcomes were the worst for older adults and people with disabilities. Of those who died from the summer heat in 2021, 78% were 60 or older; 71% lived alone. Only 10 death investigations made reference to an air cooling unit in the home, seven of which were malfunctioning or unplugged.

To improve outcomes this year, the County purchased about 180 air conditioning units to install in the homes of vulnerable clients. The County has installed over half of them so far, with work ongoing to install the rest soon. It’s part of a long-term effort to protect clients who are low-income and live in urban heat islands.

In addition, as part of the historic FY 2023 budget that the Board of County Commissioners passed in June, the Department of County Human Services will be able to purchase and install up to 1,000 more air conditioning units this coming year. The goal: get the air conditioners in the houses of those who need them the most.

Cox said the air conditioning unit created immediate relief for her household. Now she doesn’t have to worry about whether or not her grandson will sleep through the night. Instead, she’s able to focus on what matters most: helping him thrive.

“How quickly it was provided was mind-blowing,” Cox said. “I feel very blessed to get our needs met.”

Watch the video to learn more about how the County is preparing vulnerable households for hot weather.