High temperatures affecting Austin's shelters, homeless community

While temperatures begin to rise in Central Texas -- it's a burden for Austin's homeless population.

AUSTIN - To others, such as Austin's homeless community,  the scorching sun can create and exacerbate existing problems.

"We absolutely do see more people coming in when the weather is extreme," explained Jan Gunter, the Deputy Development Director for the Salvation Army of Austin.

The organization offers shelter to about 320 people at their Austin locations, as well as a variety of other resources to assist those in need.

As the population in Austin continues to increase, so does demand for the shelter.

"I think it's really important for people to understand that the Salvation Army is providing shelter and food and clothing and hydration.  But that's just the beginning.  We're also providing case management. And that case management, we're working with those families to help them move from crisis - this crisis of homelessness - to self-sufficiency.  And that's really the goal," Gunter said.

Gunter explains they have a waitlist of more than 500 people.

"That's why we're actually breaking ground next week on a new women's and children's shelter to be able to help accommodate some of those folks," explained Gunter.

Inside the ARCH, staff handed out bottled water and offered indoor cooling, water fountains, and showers to those in need.  A spokeswoman said that officials were also educating ARCH clients about heat and heat-related symptoms.

The heat's effects are seen daily by Austin-Travis County EMS.  Since June 1, they've responded to 49 heat-related emergencies.

"We have triple-digit temperatures that are predicted for the next few months, so we anticipate a continuance in these heat-related emergency responses," said ATCEMS Commander Mike Benavides.

Those symptoms range depending on the severity of the case.

"Everything from just a little bit of overheating, some exposure, the general feeling of weakness.  All the way to the extreme and life-threatening level of heat illness, which would be a heat stroke, which is altered mental status, up to seizures, it could even lead to death," said ATCEMS Commander Mike Benavides.

The high temperatures can worsen existing issues, such as the effects of synthetic drugs.

"With K2, one of those signs and symptoms is hypothermia, increased body temperature.  So if there out in the elements, and they're using some of those foreign substances, illicit substances, this can increase their body temperatures again," Commander Benavides explained.

He urged people to watch out for each other while out in the heat, and to pre-hydrate before spending long periods of time outside.

And if you think someone is experiencing a heat-related emergency, EMS says should move them out of the sun, cool them down with a wet towel, and call 9-1-1.

City officials have also developed a two-phase system to deal with extreme temperatures. The below plan was provided to KVUE by Austin Public Health:

  • Phase 1 Triggers – 1) NWS issues a heat advisory, and/or 2) combination of temp and hazards/emergencies increases risk of heat-related illness, and/or 3) any plan stakeholder requests activation.
  • Phase 2 Triggers – 1) NWS issues Excessive Heat Warning, or 2) Phase 1 monitoring reveals enough heat-related illness to jump to Phase 2.
  • Phase 1 is essentially enhanced monitoring and Austin Public Health gathers info on heat-related illness from ERs, EMS, and other sources.  ARCH/Front Steps monitors persons visiting their facilities.
  • Phase 2 is even further enhanced monitoring and APH may conduct door-to-door needs assessment of known at-risk populations.  If needed temporary cooling stations will be opened (CapMetro buses) and water distribution to at-risk populations.

 

© 2017 KVUE-TV


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