During this blistering heat wave, there are designated cooling centers open until Sept. 9th from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m, but there aren’t enough places to provide relief to the more than 60,000 people throughout L.A. County who are unhoused.
While people who don’t have the best air conditioning in their homes or those who may want to save on their electricity bills go to their local mall to cool off and sit for a time, those who are unhoused and “appear homeless,” are often hustled away and not allowed to “loiter.”
L.A. County and City libraries during their business hours are designated cooling centers throughout the year.
On Labor Day, county libraries stayed open for those needing a spot to cool off, but city libraries were closed.
Last Monday, advocates for the unhoused who loaded up bottles of frozen water to take into the valley found the library cooling center information confusing and a serious problem for those who were met with a locked door at the city’s libraries – they believe the unbearable heat should have kept all libraries open in what should be viewed as an “emergency” for those who are on the street and most exposed to this extreme hot weather.
“We need to look at this through the lens of the unhoused person,” said Carlos Nieto. “During this extreme weather, all of the libraries should stay open as cooling centers even if it’s a holiday,” he believes.
“It’s important for the unhoused community to know where the places are for them to find refuge, but also to show and educate people on the realities and the hardships that go into it. So imagine you’re in a heatwave, waiting on a holiday schedule, where the buses come an hour and a half at best … and to find them [libraries] closed, so that only exacerbates the issue,” said Theo Henderson, an advocate for the unhoused and the host of a podcast called, “We the unhoused.”
“I really hope this gets out for people to really be educated because too often our community is uneducated and they’re thinking that unhoused people are the villains when they are really not. They’re just trying to survive in horrible solutions that we created,” said Henderson.
“People are suffering,” said Pastor Kathy Huck, the founder of the nonprofit About My Father’s Business, a homeless outreach ministry. She too passed out bottles of frozen water. “People had water but it was all warm, they were grateful for cold water. It was so hot, I nearly passed out there myself during the time I was out there and had to be helped back to my car,” she said.
Huck said she met one man standing on the steaming hot asphalt without shoes who was leaning against an RV that had a small tarp. “I asked him if this was where he stayed, and he said, ‘no,’ he had asked permission to lean there to borrow some shade. Can you imagine, he asked to borrow some shade?” Huck said it was 109 degrees at the time. “He wasn’t wearing a shirt and was breathing heavily and we put a cold water bottle on his neck and we gave him a lot of water and brought him a tent, a yoga mat, and gave him some food, underwear and socks. He had nothing,” she said.
“This is an emergency,” said Huck, “we should be treating this the same way as we did when people were displaced during the fires in Chatsworth and had no place to go. The homeless have no way to escape and are also displaced and can’t stay out on the street.”
Huck said there are many people living on the street who are sick and at risk of dying from exposure. “ I came across one man yesterday who had many open wounds on his legs and they were swelling from edema. I saw an elderly woman who looked well into her 80’s whose back was hunched and she couldn’t stand up, she was thirsty and hot.”
“If none of us had air conditioning and there was a widespread power outage across the city, the Red Cross would be called out and emergency shelters would be set up, the same way they are for wildfires,” said Huck who points out the unhoused are most affected and these same measures aren’t taken.
“Every community has a recreation center and a school and they should be opened up to get those who don’t have a place to get out of the dangerous heat. People die from exposure,” said Huck.
“This is what I want the public to understand because there’s so many conversations where people that are uneducated and uninitiated about the travails that unhoused people experience. It’s not that people just don’t want to help, it’s not that they are surface resistant. It is made so untenable, so difficult for unhoused people that the average housed person will fold like a house of cards within a week if they have to do what unhoused people who have lived out here for years [do],” said Henderson.