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Homeless people are susceptible to Oklahoma's extreme heat, advocates say

Oklahoma’s hot, sweaty summers can make life miserable for anyone who has to be outside. But for people with no access to air conditioning and water, extreme heat can be dangerous or even deadly.
by Silas Allen Modified: July 28, 2014 at 10:00 pm •  Published: July 28, 2014

Donato Patrick calls it “dying season.”

Oklahoma’s hot, sweaty summers can make life miserable for anyone who has to be outside. But it can be more than miserable for some, Patrick said.

The homeless man, who lives in Oklahoma City, said he’s seen many of his friends get sick or die during the summer’s hottest months.

During July and August, when the summer heat is typically most brutal, health officials often remind residents to stay indoors as much as possible and drink plenty of water.

Sitting in the Homeless Alliance’s day shelter, Patrick said that isn’t always an option for the city’s homeless people. Most have limited access to water, he said, and they may not be able to find an air-conditioned place to rest. Patrick said drugs and alcohol compound that problem.

“There’s people out here dying,” he said.

Representatives from the Oklahoma City Police Department, Emergency Medical Services Authority, the state medical examiner’s office and the Homeless Alliance all said those agencies don’t keep data on homeless deaths. But Kim Woods, deputy director for the Homeless Alliance, said at least one homeless person died from a heat-related illness last year.

As heat index values soared into the triple digits last week, EMSA officials issued a heat alert warning residents to stay indoors, limit sun exposure during mid-day hours and drink plenty of water.

Jim Winham, EMSA’s director of clinical services, said those warnings don’t always reach the city’s homeless population.

Homeless people generally don’t have easy access to news media, meaning they might not know a heat wave is on the way and, when it arrives, they don’t have information about where to go to cool off. Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. maintains a network of Cool Zones around the metro area that offer residents without air conditioning a place to rest, escape the heat and drink water. But cooling stations and other resources are no help to anyone who doesn’t know where they are, Winham said.

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