These are dangerous and tricky days for Columbus’ homeless population.
As the July temperatures soar — the high has been 90 degrees or hotter every day since June 21 and that trend is forecast to continue for the foreseeable future — the heat takes a cumulative toll on those living on the streets.
Samuel Jones, 38, has spent the better part of the last year homeless in Columbus. He recently moved into Grace House, a 50-bed shelter for men in the Beallwood community operated by SafeHouse Ministries.
Jones said the summer takes a toll on those on the streets.
“When it is really hot like this, water is hard to come by,” he said. “People charge you for water. There is really no way to get out of the heat because the businesses don’t want you in there unless you are paying.”
With the temperatures remaining steady and hot like this, Jones and others turn to SafeHouse at 2101 Hamilton Road for shelter much in the same way they would in the winter when the temperatures drop below freezing.
Safe House operates daily from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and Executive Director Neil Richarson said that the hot days cause a spike in clients. On normal days, Safe House will serve about 100 lunches with people coming in and out. Over the last few weeks, SafeHouse has been serving about 150 lunches and people are remaining inside, where the temperature holds steady at 74 degrees.
“This summer seems like it has been a challenge,” Richardson said. “If you are on the streets, you are battling the heat and flies by day and the mosquito at night. And you are fighting dehydration the entire time.”
SafeHouse has a 5-gallon water cooler and it is refilled as many as seven times a day when the heat is on, Richardson said.
As homeless and poor residents seek refuge from the heat, it becomes a numbers game, Richardson said. They are eligible for up to 120 nights a year at the Valley Rescue Mission and 90 nights annually at Salvation Army.
“In the spring and fall, you will see more people staying outside in the camps,” Richardson said. “This time of year, you will see them starting to line up after 2 p.m. at Valley Rescue so they can get a bed and get out of the heat.”
WRBL Chief Meteorologist Bob Jeswald said on Tuesday that there is not much relief in sight for the coming weeks.
“The thing that I worry about most is the dehydration,” Jeswald said. “Most of the homeless population is walking or using bikes to get around. Being active in this heat really can put stress on the body.”
“There are some days, going between SafeHouse, downtown and other places, I am walking 10 or more miles a day,” he said.
Richardson said the positive thing he has seen is that the numbers of homeless in camps along the Second Avenue corridor is in decline. He credits Home for Good, a United Way Agency, and its program of moving chronically homeless into housing.
“This time last year, there were more than 100 people in these camps,” Richardson said. “Right now, the best count we have is about 70. We have people running ice into the camps in the morning and that is what it looks like to us.”