For individuals who do not have access to air conditioning, such as the houseless community in San Luis Obispo, Pacific Gas and Electric Company spokesperson and marine meteorologist John Lindsey said that heat exhaustion and heat strokes become a real threat.
“If you’re homeless, and you have very little resources, it’s hard for you to snap back — it’s hard for you to recover,” Lindsey said.
According to Lindsey, the average high temperature for San Luis Obispo this past June was 77.6 degrees Fahrenheit and the average low was 51.2 degrees Fahrenheit.
In past years, the average high for the area was 75.3 degrees and the average low was 49.8 degrees.
“The highs are 2.5 degrees above average,” Lindsey said. “And more importantly, the overnight lows were 4 degrees above average.”
Lindsey said that if it does not cool overnight, the body does not get a chance to recover.
Although the temperatures vary from year to year, Lindsey said that the number of cold record temperatures has decreased over the last few decades while the number of hot record temperatures have increased due to climate change
“It’s gonna get warmer and warmer and warmer,” Lindsey said.
During the height of the heat wave in June, SLO Street Medics volunteer Michelle Mansker and her team of registered nurses, paramedics and first-aid certified volunteers found an individual who had been passed out on the asphalt.
“It was 85 [degrees] out, so it was hotter on the asphalt,” Mansker said.
SLO Street Medics is focused on providing houseless individuals with water and any other supplies they may need, Mansker said.
“I think that’s a big concern is making sure that these people are cool and hydrated, and not having any medical issues,” Mansker said.
According to Mansker, although the city has official warming centers, they do not have cooling centers. This leaves people to rely on libraries and other public spaces, even though cooling down isn’t what the spaces are meant for, Mansker said.
“Who wants to be walking around in the heat for miles?” Mansker said.
Cooling centers are typically air-conditioned buildings designated to provide relief and safety during extreme heat. While the centers can help save lives, “their effectiveness is enhanced if they are part of a comprehensive heat response plan,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Additional strategies often include community outreach and multi-functional facilities.
According to Mayor Heidi Harmon, a proactive outreach team fit with an EMT and a social worker is in the works for Fall 2021.
“They will be going out into the community in a proactive way to do a lot of different things but certainly on high heat days, they’ll be out there making sure folks are safe and have water and whatever else that they might need,” Harmon said.
Harmon said she had originally considered advocating for a cooling center but now maintains that cooling centers are largely underused and can be huge energy consumers. The CDC reported that during heat waves, extensive use of air conditioning can strain the electrical grid and cause power failures.
“I understand that the Prado Day center is not a lot of folks’ first choice, but I would say that if it is sometimes a matter of life or death, I would encourage them to at least consider spending the hot parts of the day there and just being in the coolness of that space until we can get through some heat this hot summer,” Harmon said.
40 Prado Day Lead Darlene Mims has not noticed a lot of traffic of people coming in to get relief from the heat.
Normally when they get an influx of people coming in, it is because the City has been doing sweeps where people choose to camp out, Mims said.
In terms of a cooling center, Mims said there has not been a need for that, but people are welcome to come into the shelter during the day to get relief.
Additionally, the City created a new homeless services manager position in December 2020, the first dedicated position for homelessness in the history of the city, according to Harmon.
Harmon said despite the City’s services, “unfortunately, a lot of people don’t take us up on those offers.”
Harmon said the City’s new initiatives were funded by the Measure G sales tax that San Luis Obispo voters passed in the 2020 election — which intended to put about $21,600,000 annually toward a range of issues, including addressing homelessness.
Harmon said she is also looking to implement more hydration stations. Additionally, to avoid single-use plastic bottles, she said she’s contacted Cal Poly in an attempt to get reusable water bottles to give out to people.
Harmon said homelessness is not just the city’s responsibility, but the county’s as well. She says the City of San Luis Obispo does a lot for homelessness without necessarily having the funds to do so.
“They [San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors] also needs to be engaged on this issue as well to make sure that they’re understanding that we need more support to help folks that are homeless, especially during high heat days,” Harmon said. “No doubt, this is one of the most complex, challenging issues out there, so it’s going to take a quilt of different types of solutions to get people meaningful help.”
Mansker said she’d like to see a more collaborative effort between agencies to provide greater resources.
“It feels sometimes like there is a competition between agencies and they do not want to share their resources,” Mansker said. “How can we actually work towards helping these folks instead of like we’re all doing it on our own?”
Mansker said community members can help address the issue by checking on individuals who seem like they are suffering from the heat and distributing supplies such as water bottles to help people through the heat.