It’s hot in Seattle. And everyone knows it.
Temperatures are consistently reaching high 80s – which might not sound too bad to non-Seattleites, but in a region where the summers are getting hotter every year and residents are statistically unlikely to have air conditioning, it is justifiable to complain about the heat. Seattleites are, according to City of Seattle Emergency Management, highly sensitive to heat . But more than that, heat can literally be a killer.
Even mildly warm temperatures can worsen existing health issues and prompt conditions like heat stroke, heat cramp and heat exhaustion.
“Demographic vulnerability to extreme heat events is similar to other hazards,” stated a Seattle Hazard Identification & Vulnerability Analysis by the City of Seattle. “Factors that increase vulnerability include: Age (65+), ethnicity (especially Pacific Islander), lower levels of educational attainment, lower incomes and minority status.”
This, of course, includes Seattle’s homeless population.
Individuals without shelter are one of the most vulnerable groups during the hot summer months. Seeking refuge from the heat is an impossible task; many stores which offer relief will refuse service to homeless people due to lack of purchase.
“A lot of the public places will kick you out,” says Orion Sackman, a Seattleite experiencing homelessness. “They don’t care if you’re hot.”
“It made me sick. I’ve had heat exhaustion a couple times this week alone,” admits Red, a homeless man at the waterfront.
In response to the heat, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office issued a press release listing shelters and public spaces that can be used to stay cool. For example, some Seattle Public Libraries can be used as a refuge from the sun. A handful of public pools around the city were also listed.
“With rising temperatures in Seattle this week, the City has many places to stay cool,” said Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan in the press release. “As a reminder, drink plenty of water, reduce strenuous outdoor activities, check on neighbors and those at risk for heat-related illness, and don’t leave any pets in the car.”
The press release, however, does not offer many resources for making potable water more affordable or available. Nor does it offer any additional solutions or funds toward moving people out of the heat more permanently.
Staying hydrated and chasing the shade in parks and other public spaces becomes a full-time job. Even then, it’s not enough.
“Give us hella motel vouchers,” suggests Lassik Blair, a homeless Seattleite. “Like a temporary thing, not trying to juice it.”
Motel vouchers are an alternative solution used when shelters, which also often aren’t air-conditioned, are at capacity. Several homeless individuals on the waterfront of Seattle mentioned this possibility; motel vouchers translate to an air-conditioned room where individuals battling homelessness can escape the heat. However, they’re seldom offered as a reprieve from the heat; instead, most service providers reserve their vouchers for individuals who are on the brink of homelessness or in an emergent situation.
Sun exposure doesn’t seem like an emergency — but it is.
“I haven’t had access to sunscreen in a while,” said Red.
Though it’s relatively under-researched, skin cancer among homeless individuals is prevalent and lethal. Prolonged exposure to the sun’s rays can do serious damage that’s often invisible. And, because they don’t have reliable access to health care, skin cancer is almost never caught in time.
Though winter’s whipping winds and freezing temperature typically take center stage when discussing the elements and their impact on unsheltered individuals, long days under the sun can be just as harmful as cold nights. As long as the topic of solving homelessness remains unsolved, temporary shelters and accommodations to offer a break from the weather should be ample.
They are not.
Check out the full Aug. 1 - Aug. 7 issue.
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