Cooling centers serve as shelters for homeless residents and those without A/C

When Patrick woke up on Tuesday, one of the hottest days in Portland’s prolonged heat wave, he was out of breath. The excessive heat triggered his sleep apnea and his shirt was drenched in sweat.

After a 15-day stay in a shelter at an abandoned Greyhound station in the Old Town with no air conditioning, the 57-year-old, who declined to give his surname, decided he had had enough. Enough of the rushed showers, cramped bathrooms, locked handicapped stalls and the occasional hypodermic needle lying around.

So on Tuesday he set off, seeking respite from the grueling temperatures.

“The only thing that really bothered me was that my mind was just gone from the lack of rest and my sense of decency towards myself being in a situation like this,” he said. declared.

Portland is in the midst of one of the longest heat waves in history with at least eight days of at least 90 degrees. And although temperatures did not break last year’s records, health officials are investigating seven suspected hyperthermia deaths, including three in Multnomah County. For residents without housing and those without air conditioning, the county’s shelters and cooling centers serve as a refuge of last resort.

Nearly 100 Oregonians died in last year’s heat dome, and local officials’ preparedness and response were criticized at the time. This year, Multnomah County, the City of Portland and community organizations have been more proactive, reaching out to the most vulnerable communities, including the homeless, elderly residents, people who live in multi-family buildings, homes prefabricated or alone. They also promptly report suspected heat-related deaths to raise awareness of potential risks.

With temperatures of 98 degrees expected on Sunday, county officials are keeping all four nighttime cooling shelters open through Sunday evening. Nearly 250 people stayed at the shelters on Friday, the county said in a statement.

On Friday afternoon, Patrick sat next to a raised black bed in the Portland Building, which houses one of the county’s four overnight shelters. He had a black walker next to him with a seat and straps on top to hold a small black suitcase.

He stumbled upon the cooling center by accident, he said. He took the Green Line MAX from a stop near the shelter and the #8 bus to the Portland Veterans Administration Clinic on 1st Avenue SW.

But as he got off the bus near an intersection, he pushed his walker in another direction. “I didn’t think so,” he said. “I just kept walking.”

Patrick said he sat on the benches outside the Portland Building for about 20 minutes before getting up to read the signs posted outside.

“He said it was a chill center and I said, ‘Well, I’ve got nothing to lose,'” he said. “I mean my life has been pretty miserable so far.”

He’s stayed there ever since, getting relief he couldn’t find in a shelter.

Because he weighs around 400 pounds, Patrick said he was turned away from shelters where staff couldn’t help but lift him off the ground. He also suffers from arthritis in his left knee and ankle, which he says brings its own set of challenges.

“My morale is up and my attitude has improved,” he says, but when the cooling center closes, he will seek other shelter.

Inside the city office building, volunteers and county staff transformed the first floor into an area where people can sleep and enjoy refreshments. Camp beds, both raised and on the ground, were laid out next to each other on Friday afternoon.

About forty people, mostly men, were staying there. Many slept with blankets over them. A man moaned, asking the others to stop talking so he could rest.

After the office elevators, a makeshift cafeteria has been set up with four folding tables and chairs as well as an assortment of food, cold water and drinks, including plenty of coffee. Armando Saldivar, 49, was seated at a table, sipping a cup.

On his right arm he had a tattoo of his name. To his left is a nickname, “pelón”, a Spanish word meaning bald.

Armando Saldivar, 49, sits in the cafeteria section of the Portland Building sipping a cup of coffee on Friday, July 29, 2022.Zaeem Shaikh / The Oregonian

Saldivar lives in Right 2 Dream Too, a small community of houses just outside the Moda Center in northeast Portland. He said community members there spread the word about the locations of cooling centers, so he made occasional stops throughout the week to sit in the air conditioning and grab a bite to eat. to eat.

At Right 2 Dream Too, he lives in a 10×10 space, which he calls “a fancy tool shed”. But that’s enough. There is a roof above with a bed and a place to store clothes.

But without air conditioning, Saldivar said her only option was to open windows and doors to stay cool. “If you have a small space like that and you close the door, it quickly becomes stuffy,” he said.

It rode the MAX yellow line to the Chill Shelter on Friday. TriMet said it won’t charge fares for those looking for rides to cooling centers.

Saldivar said he’s often in the area anyway. He had a stick and a lacrosse ball with him and said he spent time playing at Terwilliger Plaza.

“I’m there during the day anyway, so I thought, ‘Let me in and see what’s going on, have a coffee,'” he said. “And the air conditioning is really nice.”

The prolonged heat prompted a more global response after local authorities came under fire following last year’s heat wave. Sixty-nine people in Multnomah County died from the heat in late June last year. On Friday, Mayor Ted Wheeler and county officials held a press conference asking housing providers to verify residents and families to verify relatives.

Wheeler sounded the alarm, saying the heat spells should no longer be considered “unprecedented”.

“As a reminder to everyone, it’s only July,” he said. “It could be a long summer, and we have to prepare for it.”

One of the city’s largest daytime chillers, the Multnomah County Central Library, is scheduled to close this week for three months due to construction. Nadine Mallery lives in a building without air conditioning, so she often goes to the library to cool off.

“It’s so hot in my apartment it makes me sick,” Mallery, 63, said.

Mallery, who moved into her apartment in May, said she was told to install a portable air conditioner but was worried about doing it herself.

“I mean these things have humidification patterns, and so I’m afraid of leaks and all kinds of things going wrong,” Mallery said. “I really don’t want to have one.”

But with the library closing, she may have no other choice. Mallery said the Central Library was not just a refuge for her from the heat, but a place where she could sit and read biographies and journals.

The closest libraries to her are the Northwest Library, which she says is easily overcrowded, and the Belmont Library, which is a bus ride away.

For now, her plan is to go to Home Depot on Monday with her social worker and find a portable air conditioner. If that doesn’t work, in extreme heat it will stop at the next closest cooling shelter – the Portland Building.

Zaeem Sheikh; [email protected]; 503-221-8111; @zaeemshake

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