The risks of extreme heat — we can’t all be inside
July 23, 2018
Temperatures are expected to stay in the mid to upper 90s for at least the next 10 days, offering little relief to western Nevada County residents. While many are able to duck into air conditioned homes, offices and vehicles to avoid the heat, others don't have that luxury, said Joe Naake, an outreach case manager for Hospitality House, a nonprofit that offers shelter, medical care, transitional housing and other services to those in need.
Naake takes routine trips on foot through the better-known homeless camps in the area, as well as some that are more remote.
"Heat is definitely a health issue with these folks — I'm out there daily handing out water and cooling bags," he said. "I can't emphasize enough how challenging it is for them to get access to medical treatment, especially those with mental health issues. Heat can exaggerate their issues. Due to the rapport I've developed with people, I'm pretty aware of their medical challenges."
Yesterday, Naake said he came across an older homeless man, a veteran, who was vomiting and appeared to be suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration. He couldn't keep water down, and Naake was able to get him to the ER.
Neither Grass Valley nor Nevada City currently have official "cooling centers," but the Spirit Peer Empowerment Center in Grass Valley, which is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, offers some relief to those eager to get out of the heat. But lack of transportation is often an issue.
On hot days in Nevada City, many homeless individuals spend their days in the shade by the river or area creeks, in laundromats or at the county library, said Janice O'Brien, president of Sierra Roots, which provides services and resources to chronically homeless people.
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"We try to watch out for them," said O'Brien. "The only thing I can say is thank God we don't have the humidity — it also hasn't been smoky and it's been cooling off at night."
Peggy Wardle, a 60-year-old homeless woman who suffers from multiple sclerosis, said she's been to the hospital three times this week because of the heat.
"My internal thermostat is broken and my body doesn't regulate heat well in extreme temperatures," she said. "I stay at a campsite at night and in my car during the day. Sometimes I try to sit with my feet in a creek. I was a caregiver to seniors for 25 years, so I know how the heat can impact older people. I'm definitely not the only senior camping out here. The fact that they're aren't any city cooling centers seems abusive to me."
Both Naake and O'Brien emphasize that we all need to be alert to others when there are extreme heat conditions. For the most part, those who are living out in the elements simply aren't getting enough water, they say.
"Keep an eye out for people — we need to take care of each other," said Naake. "A person out in the heat may not be homeless, but they might need a bottle of water and a kind word."
O'Brien suggests people carry an ice chest in their trunk with cold water bottles to hand out should they run across someone who has clearly been out in the heat for an extended period of time.
"Sometimes I drive around to see if there are people who could use some help," said O'Brien. "In this heat I keep wondering, 'Where would I go?'"
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email Cory@theunion.com.