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‘Heat kills’: Catholic groups strive to help homeless people survive record summer temperatures

As Catholic organizations have stepped up efforts to help the homeless during this summer’s heatwave, they are also bracing for what could be an even more serious crisis: the day when moratoriums on evictions are lifted across the country. country.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has prevented evictions to help curb the spread of Covid-19. But after an extension issued last month, the moratorium on evictions will expire on July 31.

Dan Ponisciak, SCC, Director of André House in Phoenix, said they were “extraordinarily concerned” about the end of the federal moratorium, whether it ends this month as scheduled or whether it is extended again.

In Phoenix, the exact number of people on the streets is unclear as Maricopa County did not conduct its annual homelessness count during the pandemic. “All we know is that this number continues to increase every year,” said Father Ponisciak. America, adding that André House serves between 500 and 600 meals each evening. “I imagine it has increased further. And it will rise very high when the moratorium ends. “

Today there are already too few accommodation beds for homeless people, he said. But the situation could get worse.

“We’re going to have hundreds of families living in cars in Walmart parking lots across eastern Washington.”

Father Ponisciak is not alone is his concern. Rob McCann, CEO and Chairman of Catholic Charities in Spokane, Washington, said America he expects 4,700 families will become homeless once the moratorium is lifted.

“It will all happen the same day,” he said. “It’s a humanitarian crisis. There is no capacity for that here in Spokane.

Catholic charities across the country have implemented rent assistance programs that use federal funds through the CARES Law. In Spokane, Catholic Charities approached the landlords, McCann said, and offered to reimburse the rent to vulnerable families to avoid evictions.

“Here’s what the owners tell us: ‘Save your money. I want to kick these people out the second the government allows me to because the housing market is so hot in Spokane, ”McCann said. “They know they can get rid of these bad payers, as they see them, and find new tenants. But more importantly, they can increase the rent.

Mr McCann estimated that rental rates have doubled over the past three years in Spokane.

“We’re going to have hundreds of families living in cars in Walmart parking lots across eastern Washington,” he said, explaining that homeless families are parking there because Walmart restrooms are open 24 hours a day.

Deadly heat waves in the West

This summer, several heat waves burned through the western United States. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, the Associated Press reported that at least 112 people have died in Washington state because of the high temperatures. In Oregon, 116 residents heat death. Temperatures reached record highs throughout the South West also.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix sends a tanker truck at 5 a.m. daily to help those in need deal with the heat. (Courtesy Mary Chou-Thompson / Society of Saint Vincent de Paul)

In Phoenix, the Society of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul has set up an emergency shelter with 200 social distancing camp beds to help prevent heat-related deaths. Providing relief has become more difficult due to the pandemic. Due to Covid-19 protocols, for example, a shelter that can normally accommodate 275 people now only has room for 80 people. Their catering service, which could seat 300 people, now only offers take-out options. Vincentian home visits, which included indoor discussions with those in need, now end on the porch.

“We want to maintain public safety but also realize that the heat will kill people,” said Marisol Saldivar, spokesperson for Saint-Vincent de Paul. The company is sending water rescue trucks from 5 a.m. daily to provide hydration to those in need, she said.

Saint-Vincent-de-Paul receives hundreds of calls every day asking for rent and utility assistance, Ms. Saldivar said. Relief efforts are complicated as fewer volunteers are available during the summer months. Many families take their summer vacations, and many seniors only reside in Arizona during the colder months.

“But for vulnerable families, children are not in school and do not have easy access to food aid programs,” said Ms. Saldivar, adding that Saint-Vincent-de-Paul stores food to help families. to spend the summer months. “We know how generous the community can be. It would be great if this generosity extended to the summer months.

“You are trying to put things in place so that fewer people die. The reality is that heat kills. “

In Arizona, the deadly heat is nothing new this year. Last year, the state recorded more than 500 heat-related deaths, a 62% increase, which many attribute to the closure of public spaces due to the pandemic.

“Things are better now than they were a year ago,” said Father Ponisciak. “Everything was closed, libraries and other places of refuge. So there were fewer opportunities for people to enter even if they wanted to. “

At Maison André, the staff generally open their dining room during the day to welcome people and allow them to shelter from the heat. But they were unable to provide this service last year. They only kept the showers and toilets open.

The intense heat arrived earlier this year, said Father Ponisciak. Many of the people served by Maison André live in tents in the neighborhood surrounding the intervention. Last summer, staff checked the temperature in these tents and found it to reach 135 degrees. They also found that the pavement temperature reached 150 degrees.

“It’s just not survival at the end of the day,” said Father Ponisciak. “People in the Midwest dread winter. You know it’s going to be cold and you know it’s going to snow. Here you start to ramp up for the summer around March. You’re trying to put things in place so that fewer people are dying. The reality is that heat kills.

At Maison André, they accompany people experiencing homelessness and designate them as their guests, said Father Ponisciak. They strive to restore the dignity and home of their guests, the first two things many people lose when they are homeless, he said.

“We support people through their suffering and everything they go through. And in a few cases, we walk with them all the way. “

“The most important thing we do is welcome people, get to know their names, listen to their stories; and oh, by the way, maybe we could support some of their needs, ”he said. “We support people through their suffering and everything they go through. And in a few cases, we walk with them all the way. And we hand them over to God. Because it is we who are here. And there is no one else.

Too often, said Father Ponisciak, society quickly forgets people simply because they no longer have roofs over their heads. He dispelled a common myth that homeless people move to cities with milder climates. “When you are homeless, you have no money. You can’t go from A to B, ”he said. “We don’t find a lot of roaming snowbirds. It is not a thing.

In Spokane, where Catholic Charities constructed a number of buildings for the homeless, Mr McCann had to contend with similar myths. “People say to me, you know, ‘You built too many of these buildings for the homeless. You will start to attract homeless people, ”he said. “The food is so good they come from Alabama, Texas and Florida.” But we did the math, and about 86% of the people in our lunch line were born and raised within 120 kilometers of downtown Spokane.

Untreated mental illness and substance abuse issues are the two main drivers of homelessness in Spokane, according to McCann. Since 2009, in the wake of the recession, he has noted increasing vilification and criminalization of homeless people, and how to help the homeless has become an argument.

“There are people who are extremely angry with me for serving the homeless and building homes and shelters,” McCann said. “They say it publicly, and elected officials get elected using the rhetoric that we have to stop doing [the outreach]. It is new to Americans.

This summer marks the first time that Catholic Charities has launched initiatives to combat excessive heat, he said. They opened air-conditioned cooling centers in five different buildings, spaces that had previously been designated as quarantine dormitories.

“As far as the homeless are concerned, the cooling centers have been a delicious appetizer on the deck of the Titanic,” said Mr McCann, referring to the looming eviction crisis. “We had a wonderful time for a week or two saving people from the heat. And that’s great. We are happy to do so. But the reality is that the ship is sinking.

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