Heat putting hardships on homeless, low-income; local shelters seeing record numbers
BY MIKE AVERILL World Staff Writer
Friday, July 22, 2011
8/03/11 at 4:44 PM
Related stories: Mayor pushes voluntary water conservation.
Nighttime heat breaks records, too.
Young and for the past month homeless, Jason Davis started staying overnight at the Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless because of the heat wave.
"Under a bridge there's shade, but the concrete adds 5 to 10 degrees to the heat," he said. "Here it's cool, and I have a roof over my head."
More and more homeless people are seeking refuge in area shelters as the unrelenting high temperatures continue.
And the efforts to keep cool, comfortable and hydrated are beginning to put a strain on the budgets of nonprofits, low-income families and those on fixed incomes.
The Salvation Army typically receives a $100,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This year it has not received that funding and it is unsure if it will come.
"We are doing everything we can to continue to provide services, but we're getting hit from all sides," said Maj. Roy Williams, commander of the Tulsa Area Salvation Army.
"Everyone's utility bills are higher and they're coming to us for help. We're doing what we can, but our bill for cooling the Center of Hope last month was $12,000. We're asking the Tulsa community for support."
The number of families and individuals seeking assistance for utility costs are spiking along with the heat, said John 3:16 Mission Executive Director the Rev. Steve Whitaker.
"The numbers are off the scale. There are so many people trying to stay cool," Whitaker said.
Cathy Kumme, emergency financial assistance case manager with the Salvation Army, said the cost of cooling has been particularly hard on the elderly she's seen.
"Their pension isn't enough to pay these big bills. The amount of the bills is sometimes doubled or tripled," she said.
The Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless is seeing record numbers, especially at night, said Executive Director Sandra Lewis.
Normally the shelter averages 95 people overnight, but it's been near capacity with about 120 people.
"We're seeing some of the folks who might normally choose to sleep outside coming in because it's terrible out," Lewis said.
There's also been an increase of about 50 people during the day. Many of the people who normally come and go from the center are staying put to keep cool.
"In the extreme heat, we bring people in who might have broken rules and been asked to leave in the past. You can't leave people out in this heat because it can lead to serious illness or death, and we don't want to see that happen," Lewis said.
The John 3:16 Mission has seen a significant increase as well, Whitaker said. He said the downtown encampments face the problem of having no reprieve from the heat, even at night.
"In the suburbs it cools down into the 80s. It does not in downtown. With the concrete it stays around 100 degrees until midnight," he said. "When you have an extended period of serious heat, you get more people coming in with health-related issues from that heat."
Many of those coming in are very ill and get treated with cold water and a place to cool down.
"The difficulty is we don't have shelter for all the people," he said.
Those most at risk of heat-related illness are homeless people living under bridges.
"Either you're hearty and healthy or you get pretty sick. When they come into the mission, we feed them and give them cold water and love them. I always wonder what they'll be like when I see them the next time," Whitaker said.
Because cold water is so crucial in these times of heat, Whitaker said the mission has no cap on what it will spend on water.
However, the cost of extra water and air conditioning are adding up especially with the unexpected costs of the blizzard in February.
"No question, the weather this year has been tough on the budget," Whitaker said. "We're committed to providing quality, compassionate care. We're digging deep into the coffers to make sure the things people need are properly funded."
Since June 15, the Salvation Army's Center of Hope has an average of 250 overnight guests and serves nearly 800 meals a day.
Sallie Godwin, spokeswoman for the Tulsa Salvation Army, said the agency has recovered financially from the snowstorms but is seeing dramatic increases in the cost of cooling its center and Boys and Girls Clubs.
How to help
Henry Zarrow has issued a $100,000 challenge grant to help fund the Salvation Army's mission.
Donations can be sent to: The Salvation Army, PO Box 397, Tulsa, OK 74101.
Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless
For information on donating to the Day Center for the Homeless at tulsaworld.com/daycenter or by calling 918-583-5588.
John 3:16 Mission
Donations may be made to John 3:16 Mission at tulsaworld.com/john316
Financial assistance/staying cool
Those in need of emergency financial assistance to pay for utility costs are encouraged to call the 211 Helpline - dial 2-1-1. The call center will be able to provide information on the best option.
The Tulsa Weather Coalition has loaner air conditioning units available for those who lack air conditioning, have limited income and a serious illness that confines them to home. For more information on those, call 2-1-1.
Those who don't meet the qualifications for the air conditioning units are encouraged to use one of Tulsa's three cooling stations:
Original Print Headline: Heat hammers homeless
- Tulsa County Social Services, 2401 Charles Page Blvd., 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. seven days a week
- Dennis R. Neill Equality Center, 621 East 4th St., noon to 9 p.m. seven days a week
- Salvation Army Center of Hope, 102 N. Denver Ave., 24 hours a day, seven days a week
Mike Averill 918-581-8489
Coby Palmer, left, stands outside the Salvation Army on Denver Avenue. Palmer had walked from the Greyhound bus station to the center, having just arrived in Tulsa from San Diego looking for work. With no place to stay, he planned to check into the center for the night. JEFF LAUTENBERGER/Tulsa World
A long line forms outside the Salvation Army's Center of Hope for people seeking shelter during the heat wave. JEFF LAUTENBERGER/Tulsa World