Rob White is an expert at the classic card game Spades.
On Wednesday afternoon, White showed his caseworker how to play while the two were taking refuge from the heat in the basement of St. Paul Lutheran Church in downtown Vancouver.
“He’s super good,” White, whose lead was insurmountable, said humbly.
“He’s a real good teacher,” said Christopher Godwin, White’s caseworker. “I’m only getting better thanks to him.”
White is homeless and a senior. He is vulnerable to the elements, and when it gets too hot, he needs shelter to survive. Thankfully, shelter is available at St. Paul and at other cooling centers throughout Vancouver, and White has been able to cool off during the hot afternoons.
Council for the Homeless issued a severe weather alert for Clark County’s emergency shelter system Tuesday. The weather alert activates cooling centers throughout the county, and other organizations mobilized to open additional cooling centers as temperatures soared this week.
Outsiders Inn was one of those organizations. Thanks to volunteers and donations, it opened the cooling center at St. Paul on Tuesday.
“The cooling assistance we help to arrange is through using air conditioning at local churches who have the capacity to share their space during the hottest hours of the day during a heat wave,” said Laura Ellsworth, strategic partnerships and advocacy manager for Council for the Homeless. “They provide water, beverages, snacks and hospitality, along with a place for people to come spend up to six hours during the heat of the day. Some accept pets, too. Each church opens according to their own capacity to staff and provide amenities.”
St. Paul Lutheran Church
People experiencing homelessness were in and out of St. Paul Lutheran Church on Wednesday afternoon. Water and snacks were available in the spacious basement, as well as fans and air conditioning.
Gerri Hiller, a volunteer of 20 years at the Winter Hospitality Overflow shelter, was helping Wednesday. The night before, she provided dinner for the guests: chili dogs, potato salad and popsicles. There were enough leftovers for lunch Wednesday.
“People have been coming and going,” she said. “Some of the guys come, but some of them don’t. You can’t force them. But we will be here while it’s hot if they choose to come.”
Tuesday wasn’t as busy as Wednesday, Hiller said, but that’s probably because many people didn’t know St. Paul was open.
All day Wednesday, outreach workers with Outsiders Inn were visiting camps throughout the county to distribute hot-weather resources and let people know about the cooling centers. They also provided bus passes to those without transportation.
“Today is definitely a lot busier than yesterday, and we’re grateful for that,” outreach worker Nicole McCallum said.
Outsiders Inn Executive Director Adam Kravitz agreed.
“I’m grateful that temperatures have been a little bit cooler than what we were expecting,” he said. “I’m also grateful that the community has stepped up. We have a lot of resources available, and I think we’re going to make it through this OK.”
Vancouver Free Fridge Project
On top of providing cooling centers, Clark County organizations are working to provide food and water for people living at camps.
One example is the Vancouver Free Fridge Project, a mutual-aid organization that stocks refrigerators throughout Vancouver with food and beverages for anyone in need.
When it gets too hot, the fridges can’t maintain food, and some 25 volunteers have been busy stocking them with frozen water bottles and beverages filled with electrolytes. Volunteers have also been distributing coolers filled with food, water and wet bandannas to help people at camps cool off.
“We’re trying to take things into our hands where the government isn’t addressing our needs,” volunteer Sydney Brahmavar said. “This is community looking after community. It’s not charity; it’s mutual aid.”
The organization has three free fridges, which are located at 5903 N.E. Hazel Dell Ave., 1202 Grand Blvd. and 6720 N.E. 94th Ave. The organization is fundraising to open a fourth fridge.
Items in the fridges are available for all, and anyone interested in stocking them with food and beverages — along with a list of potential allergens — is encouraged to do so if it meets the organization’s donation guidelines. Food donations should be withheld until the heat lets up.
The heat continues
Vancouver broke its all-time temperature record for July 26 at 101 degrees, breaking 2020’s record of 100 degrees, according to the National Weather Service in Portland.
Temperatures are expected to stay high through the week, peaking Friday and Saturday at about 100 degrees, before cooling early next week.
“It’ll be cooler on Sunday, and we’ll see more significant cooling next week,” meteorologist Scott Weishaar said. “By Monday or Tuesday, we’ll be back to below average for this time in July; we’ll be lucky to reach 80. A southwest to westerly wind is bringing in that marine air. We expect that to happen maybe Saturday, most likely Sunday.”
What’s unusual about this heat wave isn’t the temperature but the duration, according to Weishaar.
“Typical heat waves tend to be around at the most four days long,” he said. “This one is around six days long.”
Reporter Zoë Buhrmaster contributed to this story.