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News / Clark County News

Heat wave threatens Clark County’s homeless community; outreach workers deliver water, supplies

By Mia Ryder-Marks, Columbian staff reporter, and
Alexis Weisend, Columbian staff reporter
Published: July 8, 2024, 6:14pm
4 Photos
Volunteer Keith Dewing, left, and David Leitz prepare coolers of ice water for guests at the Living Hope Church cooling center Monday afternoon.
Volunteer Keith Dewing, left, and David Leitz prepare coolers of ice water for guests at the Living Hope Church cooling center Monday afternoon. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

For many Clark County residents, the past few days of triple-degree temperatures have been an annoyance. For those who are homeless, they’ve been life-threatening.

Authorities say more homeless people this summer are experiencing heat-related emergencies in downtown Vancouver than last year. The National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning through Tuesday.

The Columbian spoke to 20 or so people living outside about the realities of enduring the heat wave without shelter. Many said they are at the mercy of outreach teams who deliver water and other hot weather supplies.

Although outreach teams visited several campsites over the weekend, people were aching for more water.

Cooling centers

Mill Plain United Methodist Church: 15804 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd., Vancouver; open 2-8 p.m. Tuesday.

Living Hope Church: 2711 N.E. Andresen Road, Vancouver; open 1-7 p.m. Tuesday.

St. Paul Lutheran Church: 1309 Franklin St., Vancouver; open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday.

St. Andrew Lutheran Church: 5607 N.E. Gher Road, Vancouver; 2-8 p.m. Tuesday.

A list of libraries, shopping malls and other places open to those seeking to cool off is available at tinyurl.com/yzwxejv9 online.

Cold water misting stations

Outpost Safe Stay: 11400 N.E. 51st Circle, Vancouver; open 2-6 p.m. Tuesday.

Living Hope Church: 2711 N.E. Andresen Road, Vancouver; 1-7 p.m. Tuesday.

Free transportation

C-Tran will not turn away any passenger who is riding to a cooling center. Passengers should tell the operator as they board they’re heading to a cooling center, and fares will not be enforced, according to C-Tran.

“When it’s 100 degrees out, you can’t drink enough,” Gary Lauser, a volunteer from Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, said as he distributed frozen water bottles.

Increase in calls

On Monday afternoon, as temperatures approached 100 degrees, a man writhed in heat and delirium behind a tree as cars whizzed by on West Mill Plain Boulevard. He had stripped off all his clothes, exposing reddened skin, and was desperate for water. After lying in his tent all day, trying to hide from the direct sun, he was exhibiting signs of heat stroke — a deadly heat-related illness.

Robb Milano, emergency medical services division chief for the Vancouver Fire Department, said people who live outdoors are especially vulnerable to the heat.

This year, he’s noticed an increase in homeless people in downtown Vancouver needing help for heat-related illnesses.

Milano said between Friday and Sunday, about 10 percent of the department’s calls were heat-related emergencies: 16 on Friday, 14 on Saturday and 18 on Sunday. He said he expects those numbers to climb with a high temperature of 103 degrees expected Tuesday. That tally will include the man likely experiencing heat stroke on Mill Plain. Columbian reporters called 911 and cooled him with water. Paramedics arrived, he begged for more water.

Deadly shelter

A few days ago, Jeremy Monahan woke up seeing white, momentarily blinded by the heat as he sat up in the tent where he’s lived for two years. He said he wasn’t sure how to cool off until a caseworker drove him to Living Hope Church’s cooling center.

“If you’re homeless, there’s not a whole lot of places you can go,” he said.

Many of those living outside who spoke to The Columbian said they had been in touch with some type of outreach worker or church group in the past few days who delivered water, Popsicles, bandanas and other supplies to counter the heat.

How To Help

Helpful supplies during extreme heat include water, ice, small coolers, individually wrapped snacks, sunscreen and hats.

Donations to Share can be dropped off at the Share Fromhold Service Center, 2306 N.E. Andresen Road, during warehouse open hours 10 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and 2 to 4 p.m. Thursdays.

Donations to Council for the Homeless can be delivered in person from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday or shipped to CFTH Housing Solutions Center at 2306 N.E. Andresen Road, Suite A, Vancouver, WA 98661 or purchased at its Amazon Wish List: www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/1ZD8W12QZ5ESH?ref_=wl_share.

Donations of bottled water, snacks and Popsicles can be dropped off from 1-7 p.m. today at Living Hope Church, 2711 N.E. Andresen Road, Vancouver.

Some residents living in a large camp along the Burnt Bridge Creek Trail said they tried going into nearby stores for the air conditioning but were quickly kicked out. Others said they visited nearby cooling centers, while some said they didn’t know where they could go and stay for more than a few hours.

Volunteers from Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church delivered water and lunch to the camp Monday afternoon. They visit twice a week, and some in the camp said the volunteers are their main source of water.

“I’m amazed that people have been handling (the heat) as well as they do,” volunteer Gregg Repman said.

Although tents provide respite from burning sunlight, temperatures inside can reach dangerous levels.

An instant-read thermometer measured 98 degrees inside a tent guarded by partial shade. But in Shelly Ball’s tent, which sits on a sidewalk and is exposed to direct sunlight, the temperature reached 134 degrees.

Heat exhaustion versus heat stroke

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are both heat-related illnesses that can be life-threatening if left untreated.

Signs of heat exhaustion: Dizziness, thirst, heavy sweating, nausea, weakness, muscle cramps, unsteady gait.

What to do if someone is experiencing heat exhaustion: Move to a cooler area, loosen clothing, sip cool water, seek medical help if symptoms don’t improve.

Signs of heat stroke: Confusion, delirium, seizures, vomiting, loss of consciousness, or rapid and strong pulse. Skin may be hot, red, dry, damp or very pale.

What to do if someone is experiencing a heat stroke: Call for medical help, move person to cooler area, loosen clothing and remove extra layers, and cool body with water or ice.

And yet, she remained inside the tent, recovering from an amputation of her big toe a few weeks prior due to diabetes. It still causes her pain, especially in the heat, she said. She peeled off her sock to reveal a bandage damp with sweat.

“I woke up at 2 a.m. last night and couldn’t go back to sleep because of the heat,” she said. “It’s hard to get cool. … Water goes fast out here.”

AC a lifesaver

Just a few years ago, Regina Rubalcaba sat at a dais, serving as a city councilor and mayor pro tem of her small Southern California city. On Monday afternoon, she sat quietly in Living Hope Church just for the air conditioning. Her 8-month-old puppy, Stella, sat loyally at her feet.

She said she was there because the heat in her car, where she and Stella have lived since December after a series of misfortunes, was unbearable. Sleeping in the heat is especially dangerous because the body stops regulating its temperature, experts say. It was 80 degrees at midnight Sunday.

As she awaited a phone call about receiving a motel voucher for the next two nights, Rubalcaba described her efforts to become employed again, this time as a school bus driver, and obtain housing.

“I just wish there were more people that could recognize my situation,” she said. “It’s great that places like this open up for people who need it.”

Next to Rubalcaba, volunteers at the cooling center poured bags of ice into coolers full of beverages and distributed banana ice pops to those seeking refuge from the heat. The church also provides one of the few misting stations in town.

Living Hope Church’s cooling center was packed Sunday, according to volunteers. The outreach center has helped people get bus tickets or gas to come to the cooling center.

“We’re doing whatever we can to help and try to meet people’s needs,” lay pastor Julie Lietz said.

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.