Since the Valley?s last record heat wave eight years ago, Clark County has offered people with nowhere else to go places with a roof, air conditioning and water. It has done so in order to save those people from dropping dead on the street.
Three of these ?cooling stations??open seven days a week throughout the summer?are in Downtown?s homeless corridor. During the recent heat wave, the county worked with community groups to add 10 more across the Valley. But on a recent Saturday, most of the new stations and two of the three Downtown sites were closed by 6 p.m. (some as early as 4), with the heat still oppressive. And on that Sunday?a day that tied the city?s all-time heat record?eight of the ten new stations were closed. So if you happened to be homeless in the evening or on the Seventh Day, you could have dropped dead.
This sort of thing is not new. When the cooling stations program began in July 2005, Catholic Charities asked homeless people for ID before they could step inside. About one in five homeless people don?t have ID.
Such problems also aren?t limited to Las Vegas. ?I don?t think any community in the country has its act together when it comes to the homeless in the summer months,? says Michael Stoops, director of community organizing for the National Coalition for the Homeless, who has been working with the homeless for 41 years.
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It?s 6:15 on a recent Monday evening across Foremaster Lane from Catholic Charities. The sun is still bearing down on a growing group of homeless men who are sitting or lying on the sidewalk. Most are in their 50s; some have taken their shirts off. It?s 113 degrees. Each has a detailed strategy for staying alive on the Valley?s streets despite the heat.
Michael, a talkative, wiry guy with bad teeth and a ready smile, says he usually eats breakfast at Catholic Charities, walks about 15 minutes south along Las Vegas Boulevard and spends most of the day at the library, which is open until 7 and a lot less crowded than the shelter.
Another man, named Montana, has a wispy white beard and a roll-your-own in his hand. Some area hospitals, he says, will give you a free cup of water. He, like the others, walks everywhere, lacking other transportation. None of them knows of the 10 new cooling stations.
Gerald points to empty lots nearby and wonders why there couldn?t be a tent with shade, cold water and ?those misters you see on the Strip.? Billy, swatting a pesky fly, asks why ?no one comes by to check on us, to see if we?re alive.?
Someone mentions that well-meaning people drop cases of warm water on the sidewalk. Within minutes, the water reaches outside temperature. ?Do you think you can get sick from drinking that?? Michael asks.
The heat has not stolen their humor. Montana looks up from his cigarette: ?You give us $20 apiece, we can make Jerry?s Nugget the cooling station.?
Shortly after, he turns serious. ?Water is everything,? he says.
Meanwhile, a county spokesman writes, ?We believe our plan provides sufficient coverage and relief.?
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The day after my stop at Foremaster, according to news accounts, a 59-year-old homeless man was found dead in a lot several miles northwest of where we stood, apparently due to heat exposure. It was shortly after 6 p.m.