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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Very thoughtful and intentional’: How Spokane is preparing to help the community’s most vulnerable in the potentially historic heat wave

By Amber D. Dodd Community Journalism Fund

Grab a water. Find some shade. Freeze those ice pops. Spokane’s heat wave is expected to shatter records and sizzle the city.

While the record-shattering heat wave will exhaust everyone, it spells the most danger for the city’s most vulnerable populations.

Mayor Nadine Woodward announced the city of Spokane would open temporary cooling centers at the Looff Carrousel in Riverfront Park from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. starting Saturday. Cold water will be provided at the centers, which will operate throughout the heat wave.

“We have been very thoughtful and intentional in our approach to providing relief to all members of our community,” Woodward said in a statement. “Businesses and malls are open and operating at reduced COVID capacities into next week and are still a great way to escape the heat and support our economy.”

The city also will operate cooling centers in library branches for people needing a break from the heat. The East Side, Hillyard and Indian Trial branches will be open on Tuesdays noon to 8 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. The South Hill library is open Monday and Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Wednesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The STA Plaza and NorthTown Mall cooling centers will be open from Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Human bodies heat faster than they can cool. That ability wains as bodies age, creating heat tolerance issues for the elderly. At the same time, homeless people don’t have access to protections against the dangerous effects of heat waves, while low-income residents can’t necessarily afford supplies to battle heat.

Along with the city of Spokane, local organizations are stepping up to bring aid to those vulnerable communities.

Jeff Edwards, the executive director of Meals on Wheels in the Greater Spokane County area, said the nonprofit will provide box fans in addition to meals to its elderly clients. Even while providing the aid, the face-to-face visit could save a life. Volunteer drivers will be able to report in real-time on a client’s conditions.

“That would be the human interaction (the elderly) are getting that day,” Edwards said. “We’re using that as an opportunity to check in on the seniors and we’ll report back to our medical assistance if necessary.”

Meals on Wheels is accepting donations of fans for seniors. Fans can be dropped off at their 12101 E. Sprague Ave. location.

The Hope House has purchased more cooling tools, such as fans for indoors and umbrellas for the outdoor back area, said Rae-Lynn Barden, marketing and communications director at Volunteers of America for the Spokane area. Volunteers for America will have Hope House, Crosswalk and their young adult shelter in service during the heat wave.

Everyone in shelter areas is required to wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status. Barden and staff are providing water and cooling stations at the Hope House and Crosswalk. The Hope House is opening its doors 24/7 to women in need at their new location, 318 S. Adams St.

“We’re at a bigger capacity to make sure women have a cooler place to go to,” Barden said. “It was about 60 and we increased to another for 100 beds total.”

The young adults shelter at Women’s Hearth will be open from 7:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. as it serves as a temporary location on 920 W. Second Ave.

Though the young adults shelter won’t be in service during the day, people ages 18 to 24 can occupy one of the 15 overnight beds. Along with tools to cool down, Barden said the organization is in need of other items associated with heat.

“We’re asking volunteers to provide deodorant, sunscreen and water,” Barden said.

The organization is also in need of summer clothes for teenagers at Crosswalk, including all sizes of tank tops and shorts.

The Red Cross rang the alarm on the Pacific Northwest region’s increased watch for wildfires. High temperatures and low humidity are a dangerous combination for wildfires, and many fear the heat wave will see the likelihood of fires soar.

“We know there’s a heightened wildfire risk with the heat wave, so we’re ready and active to prepare,” said Abby Lutz, Red Cross’ regional communications manager.

COVID-19 protocols are still in place for the Red Cross, too, reshaping shelters into noncongregate shelters such as hotel rooms.

“If people have their emergency kits, we are asking they include masks in those,” Lutz said.