Without city support, Camp Hope & local orgs erect cooling tent to survive

HEAT WAVE DAY 2 | The most pressing supply needs for Camp Hope are ice, water, Gatorade, sunscreen and cups.

HEAT WAVE DAY 2 | The most pressing supply needs for Camp Hope are ice, water, Gatorade, sunscreen and cups.

Carl is checking in with our unhoused neighbors at Camp Hope every day during this heat wave to see how they’re faring and what they need. Read Day 1 here

Today, the major development at Camp Hope was the construction of a temporary cooling tent on the lot opposite the camp. As temperatures neared triple digits, a group of about a dozen workers pieced together the rounded metal frame of a 2000+ square foot tent. The plan is to run large fans and misters in the tent so Camp Hope residents can get some relief from a forecast that, right now, is predicting temperatures at or above 100 degrees tomorrow through Sunday. There will be about 30 cots in the tent, according to Julie Garcia, the executive director of Jewels Helping Hands.

If the tent works well, and there’s increased demand from the camp, Garcia said they will look into pulling together resources for another temporary cooling area.

All of this work to try and keep the more than 600 people at Camp Hope safe through the extreme heat event is being done without financial support from the city or state. The Washington State Department of Transportation and Mayor Woodward’s office did not respond to requests for comment on the situation.

Council president Breean Beggs sent the following statement:

Council has urged the administration to specifically target Camp Hope for services that we provide cool tents near them or provide them transportation to the libraries or even open up the two vacant libraries at Northeast and East Central which are quite large and are going to be renovated anyway so it would be good temporary shelters.

So far, I haven’t gotten any real response from the administration on these ideas. I am very worried that there will be serious health issues and potentially deaths due to inaction.

Last year, council passed an ordinance requiring preplanning and action for this event and has provided all funding requested by the administration for providing those services. We would undoubtedly provide more money if needed and asked.

Without funding support from local or state government, Empire Health Foundation (EHF) stepped in and rushed an emergency grant to pay for the construction and operation of the cooling shelter.

“I reached out to folks at the city to see if they were going to try and address that specifically for the folks that are at Camp Hope, and they said they’re going with the library cooling shelters that they’re opening up,” said Zeke Smith the president of EHF.

The nearest city-sanctioned cooling shelter is the new East Central Library, over a mile away.

The nearest city cooling station to Camp Hope is over a mile away at the East Central Library. See a map of all the locations here

Smith heard from advocates that people weren’t likely to cover that distance, especially if it meant leaving their possessions behind. “They’re not going to leave their stuff at Camp Hope,” Smith said.” There’s a lot of anxiety, so I felt like it was important to try to get something up.”

Throughout the conversation with Smith, there was a sense that too much time had been wasted on patchwork fixes that shouldn’t be necessary and which, in many cases, are insufficient. “I’m saddened that we don’t have better systems in place to address what we know is going to be a significant hardship for those individuals,” Smith said. “At the end of the day, I’m disappointed that we haven’t figured out together — and that means the local government has a key role in that — how we make sure that people are going to be as safe as we can.”

Instead, a homegrown humanitarian crisis has become a political football.

“I get that people have different ideas about how we got to this point and I get that people have different ideas about the longer term solutions,” Smith said. “It’s supposed to be somewhere between 102 and 105 degrees on Friday and I can’t imagine what that means in one of those tents in the full sun, which most of them are.”

“I just think we should be focused together first and foremost on human lives and how we take care of people,” Smith concluded. “I hope that that’s what we’re able to do and that it is compelling to others who might have resources to support this as we move forward.”

The word of the day on Camp Hope’s whiteboard today was hydrate. Residents splashed and poured water on each other to cool down as they grabbed water bottles and gatorade from the camp’s supply tent. One resident bought a hand pump pesticide applicator to use as a mister on himself and fellow residents. While some bemoaned the heat and worried about staying hydrated, others said they weren’t too worried about the heat — at least not for themselves.

“I’m not concerned for myself, I’m concerned for people’s pets,” said camp resident Rosa Peterson. “I have a kitten myself [Liliona] and I’m pretty worried about her. I have a spray bottle and a fan that goes around your neck and she can turn them on and off as she chooses.”

“I would go to the pool, but if my kitten can’t go I don’t go,” Peterson said. “I just drench myself in water, take cold showers and put washcloths on the back of my neck. I have to keep ice, ice is the wonder.”

“These tents, it can be 98 degrees out here and in my tent it can be 115, and I know this because I have a thermometer,” she said. “Last week, they said it was 98 and the thermometer in my tent was 114. My kitten was throwing up all day because she had heat exhaustion. That’s what I’m worried about.”

Camp Hope resident Loren Freeman said that he was getting through the heat by panhandling money to go buy ice at Fred Meyer.  “I think we’ll be ok. I have a great wife,” Freeman said. “We support each other and we both use our heads — do what we can that can benefit things.”

“We have great coolers,” he said. “We’re not ill-equipped but it’s just hot and we have no shade here really.”

The cooling center at Camp Hope — or any cooling center really — aren’t a good fit for Freeman. “I have social issues, I have anxiety, so I don’t put myself in that situation,” he said.

Levi Corker, who was wearing wrap-around glasses, said the heat was getting to him. “Exhausting and exhausted even more,” he said. “What Jewels [Julie Garcia] is doing right here getting all the donations and all the sponsors and stuff is helping out a lot. We’ve never had this before. It makes a big difference.

Corker said the most important thing for people to get by is peer support. “Honestly, if you get too hot and dehydrated and all that stuff you start getting hallucinations and whatever else. It comes down to literally — do you have someone to help you,” he said. “A lot of people forget themselves so you have to have that other person around, it helps you out a lot.”

Corker, for one, said he’d be using the camp’s cooling shelter: “Oh, hell yeah.”

Throughout the day, community members dropped off supplies in support of the camp. Some were associated with local healthcare organizations, others were just there of their own accord.

One woman, who only gave her first name, Danielle, said she’s been dropping off goods since the camp started. At first, she’d bring seven loaves worth of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches a couple times a week. Today, Danielle brought eight cases of water. She said that her faith in Jesus and hearing about other churches helping led her to provide support for the camp.

Rob Stevens, who works on community engagement for Molina Healthcare, brought some supplies as well. “I’m just dropping off the bottled water to try and make sure everyone stays alive,” Stevens said. “My wife and I do some of it on our own, today I’m actually out here via work. It’s nice that I have a company that lets me do that.”

“I used to be homeless, I’ve worked in homeless services for over 13 years and I refuse to let people die on my watch if I have any control over it,” Stevens said.

Kevin Parkins, a Humana field sales representative who helps people sign-up for the company’s Medicare plans, also brought bottled water.  “Really I just told Julie to let me know when there’s a need. Yesterday we dropped off Gatorade, before we brought water, ice, sunscreen … whatever needs there are really,” Parkins said. “I’m just trying to be as available as possible to help these individuals, sometimes that’s bringing Gatorade, sometimes that’s helping them find their Medicare number, sometimes that’s getting them a new plan.”

“I have a very strong philosophy that the only thing that separates me from the people down here is a few choices in life and I realize that I was born with a lot of privilege and I didn’t do anything to earn it,” he said. “Even though I grew up in a one-parent household I had a good support system.”

“When I was six years old, when my parents got divorced, the Salvation Army sponsored my family for Christmas. I remember when my mom got that phone call and they were just telling her about all the presents that my brother and sister were going to get and she was just in tears,” he recalled, choking up.

“They tried to tell her, just tell your kids it’s from you, tell them it’s from Santa Claus, she said, ‘No, I want to tell them it’s from you. They need to know that there’s people in this world that love you just because you exist and because you’re a person with a soul.’”

“I want [the Camp Hope] residents to know that I love them just because they exist,” Parkins said. “It means a lot to me to come along and love people — like I was loved when I was a kid — even when they didn’t have to.”

Read Day 3 here.

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