Homeless Hammered by Heat

Homeless, Hot, no place to Hide

Southern Californian, Arizona Heat Wave

Forcast today:   115 degree tempeatures in Southern California and Arizona 

Chances are the vast majority of the readers of this column are enjoying at least some air conditioning.  If not, I’ll bet there are fans running, a cool  shower available, and a ‘fridge with cool drinks and ice inside, and if you need to go somewhere, it is only a short walk to an airconditioned car.   

Chances are the street homeless have none of these things.   No roof, no air conditioning, no fans, no shower available, no fridge, and water in places few and far between.   Even the creeks where some camp out are drying up.   Cars, even public transportation are no option – walk or go hungry.  Walk or die of thirst.  What an option when the heat is oppressive and the body is already weak.

Temperatures are climbing to record highs all over the country.  Pheonix Arizona is one of the hottest around, already hitting 115 degrees.  For the coming week, the forcast is consistantly at or above 108 degrees.    In past years, 2005 for example, 14 homeless died from heat related causes in Pheonix in July.  The bodies of the homeless were found in dirt lots, vehicles, and between buildings.  Police and others who volunteered to bring water to homeless people found that some were too weak to move. Some homeless people have taken to swimming in canals to stay cool during the day.

The extent of the situation facing the city’s homeless was captured by Stephanie Farwig, assistant development director of the Phoenix Rescue Mission, who told AFP, “They [the homeless] don’t have the protection from the sun nor the liquids that they need…when the temperature is 115 degrees F, the pavement is 130 degrees and people’s feet are burned even through their shoes.”

There is an effort in place to try to prevent that from happening again. To the credit of their mayor, there is a program in place there to help the homeless in both heat and cold.   Getting to the homeless and convincing them to take advantage of it is another matter.   There are pleas for donations of water that the city will take to known homeless locations to be handed out. 

Homeless man in Mesa AzMesa Arizona is another location doing the same thing.   The Picture at left is of Luis Hernandez who is about to spend his fourth homeless summer in the desert. That’s why news of Mesa’s Hydration Donation program was welcome news  (Photo by JJ Hensley/The Arizona Republic )

In Montana, temperatures above 100 are usually not seen until August. The normal July high in Helena is 83 degrees; the high 90s were recorded Friday. Records were set or tied in several Montana cities, including Great Falls and Billings at 104 degrees each. The mercury reached 105 near Bozeman.

Temperatures were expected to ease slightly in Southern California. Phoenix saw a modest drop to 112 degrees, from a high of 115 Thursday. With the approach of Arizona’s summer rainy season, humidity levels have started climbing along with demand for electricity. It is pretty bad when 112 degrees is considered a cool wave!

In years past cooling center staff in Sacramento have been surprised that so few people came to use them. Not enough publicity and insufficient public transportation could be the reasons that few poor people braved the sizzling sidewalks to travel to an air-conditioned site.   Homeless people haven’t any money to ride on the light rail trains that could bring them to a center.

South Dekota highs

South Dakota Highs for 7/7/07

Daytimes for homess bad, nights may be worse. 

You would think that the heat of the day is the biggest problem for the homeless – not so – often the homeless can visit a library or other public place long enough to get some cooling off and find public water.   But it is the hot and humid nights that seem to be even more dangerous for those without a roof to call home.   Places that they can go and get water and some heat relief are closed.   Handouts dry up, and sidewalks and other common resting places hold their heat and add to the danger of overheating.   Some find that nighttime temperatures have more to do with the wave of deaths than daytime heat.

Many with nowhere to go at night count on the normal cooling to maintain body temperature.  It relieves the stresses of heat on the body,  and unusually hot nights can leave less energy to deal with other possibly fatal conditions.

Unfortunately, the record string of sweltering nights will continue… as will the days.



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