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Homeless not flocking to cooling center

By Sonny Long
Aug. 10, 2011 at 3:10 a.m.

Doc Bartlett, the shelter program director of the Salvation Army, said that the organization has collected almost 100 cases of water as of Wednesday to help Victoria's homeless combat the heat. All of the water has come from members of the community.

CLIMBING THE RECORD CHARTS

Through Wednesday, Victoria had 11 days in a row of 100 degree or more temperatures, moving into fifth place alone for the longest such streak in Victoria history. The 103 degrees on Aug. 1 and Aug. 2 tied records for those dates. On Aug. 9, the 80 degree low tied a record set in 1988 for the highest minimum temperature. Below are the streaks of consecutive days of 100 degree temperatures.

RANK/NUMBER OF DAYS/END DATE

1 16 8/23/1911

2 14 7/ 6/2009

3 13 9/22/1911

4 12 8/25/1917

4 12 8/ 6/1912

5 11 8/10/2011

6 10 8/15/1953

SOURCE: National Weather Service

Victoria's homeless have not responded to a cooling center at the Salvation Army, so plans are being considered to take the cool to the homeless.

On Tuesday, a cooling shelter with water, snacks and an air-conditioned place to get out of the heat was made available to Victoria's homeless, but as of Wednesday afternoon, less than a half dozen had taken advantage of the service.

Doc Bartlett, director of the Salvation Army's homeless shelter, said the lack of response could be because the center opened after the oppressive heat wave began. Wednesday was the 11th consecutive day of 100-degree, or higher, temperatures.

"There is no debate about the need. The problem we are having is that we are in the seventh inning of the game starting this up," Bartlett said. "When it first started getting hot, they needed a place to hunker down during the day, and they are comfortable where they are at and for one reason or another they don't care to leave that area."

PUBLIC RESPONSE

Bartlett said the Victoria community responded in outstanding fashion to stocking the cooling center, donating more than 100 cases of water and assorted snacks.

Several volunteers have showed up both days to help man the center, and other individuals made monetary donations to purchase water.

"The public came out like gangbusters," Bartlett said.

Josie Caballero volunteered at the cooling center and also donated six cases of bottled water.

"I can't imagine anyone being hot," Caballero said, fighting back tears. "My apartment is cool, and here are these people, homeless and in this heat. I had to do something."

Caballero said in addition to her personal donation, her church - Our Lady of Sorrows - donated six cases as did her choir: Vida Nueva of Holy Trinity Church.

Caballero also expects another group she belongs to, the Victoria Civilian Fire Academy Alumni Association, to make a donation this week.

Bartlett said this year marked the first time in his seven years as shelter director that bottled water has not been available from the Food Bank of the Golden Crescent.

"There's just been a shortage of bottled water, and as soon as we get it, it's gone," said Dennis Brown, executive director of the Food Bank. "We do have plenty of Gatorade, juice boxes and bottles of sweet tea."

A local retailer also has made cases of water available at a deep discount, Bartlett said.

HOMELESS AND THE HEAT

The most recent homeless count conducted in January indicated more than 120 people in Victoria who had no shelter and about 100 more who were at-risk of being in that situation.

"There are some people living in cars around town including some children," said Jim Welvaert, director of the Homeless Prevention Program for Mid-Coast Family Services. "Many are struggling with the heat."

Those struggles include heat exhaustion, sunstroke and dehydration, said Barlett.

"It doesn't take much with dehydration," said Bartlett. "You can go for a while, but in a matter of hours, a person can be at a point of no return."

Bartlett said 90 percent of the homeless have no resources and when thirsty often resort to dumpster diving for that half-drank soda that someone tossed out.

Welvaert also noted the plight of the homeless.

"As far as what (the) homeless struggle with on a daily basis, it is always the same thing. Food, water and shelter," he said. "Thank God for Christ's Kitchen, the library and other places that they can find temporary shelter from the heat."

Bartlett said the Salvation Army shelter is currently housing 17 men.

PLAN B

Since the homeless aren't coming to get the water, Bartlett said they may have to take the water to the homeless.

Bartlett plans to meet with the American Red Cross Crossroads Chapter to discuss possible plans to distribute water to the homeless.

"We know there are people out there who need water, and that for one reason or another - transportation, whatever reason - they are unable to get down here," Bartlett said.

Bartlett said he plans to meet with the Red Cross Friday to discuss water distribution plans.

"We haven't discussed any specifics, but I hope to load up our cantina and load up their cantina with water and snacks and hit the hot spots where we know the homeless are," he said. "Maybe they'll start on one end, and we'll start on the other end. If we find a substantial need, we'll keep doing that on a daily basis until we run out of resources or the weather gets cooler, whichever comes first."

The cooling center at the Salvation Army will remain open through Friday.

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