Downtown businesses provide water to Austin’s homeless during triple-digit heat


Austin (KXAN) — A group of downtown businesses are teaming up to provide water to people experiencing homelessness in Austin during this stretch of triple digit heat.

Greg McCormack, the executive director of Front Steps (who operates the Austin’s Resource Center for the Homeless), explained the Red River Cultural District will be helping distribute water bottles in the area near the ARCH Tuesday afternoon.

Front Steps provides water on a daily basis in coolers outside to those who want to fill up their water bottles, but McCormack says this is the first time Front Steps has teamed up with Red River Cultural District for a water distribution like this.

“Today was just an idea to make sure we’re showing the community who are outside that we make sure they are getting water,” McCormack said.

Businesses give out water to Austin’s homeless Tuesday, Aug. 13 (Photo: KXAN/Brenna Henthorn)

He explained that Red River Cultural District businesses, including Stubb’s, have frozen and cooled water bottles overnight. He added that the District has been interested in trying to help find solutions for people who are experiencing homelessness downtown.

The National Weather Service has placed a heat advisory in effect until 7 p.m. Tuesday for the Austin area, anticipating high temperatures between 101 and 107 degrees. Tuesday was the 9th day in a row for Austin with temperatures over 100 degrees and the sixth consecutive day with high temperatures over 104 degrees. KXAN’s First Warning Weather team tracked temperatures Tuesday up to 105 degrees.

The Red River Cultural District teamed up with Front Steps to provide cases of cold water to Austin’s homeless during a stretch of triple-digit heat. (KXAN Photo/Alyssa Goard).

McCormack says these temperatures have an impact, both on the people who go to the ARCH for services and for those who sleep unsheltered on the streets outside the ARCH.

“We are seeing people when we go outside and do a walk around, we have found people in distress over the heat, we have had to call EMS a couple of times,” McCormack said.

He added that several of these heat-related EMS calls have been for older individuals who have had heat stroke or got dehydrated during the day.

“We are seeing people really congregate and try to find places of shade places that can be cooler,” he said. “We’re definitely seeing an increase in the number of individuals coming inside for the day.”

McCormack says that staff at the ARCH will continue to have water available outside the shelter in coolers until the heat eases off.

Ryan Garrett, the general manager of Stubb’s Bar-B-Q, was one of the people volunteering to distribute water bottles Tuesday.

“We love our neighborhood, we’re int he heart of the Red River Cultural District, unfortunately the homeless are experiencing these tremendous temperatures, and it’s our objective as a business in the heart of this district to accommodate our neighborhood and make sure it’s a place where people are safe and getting the amenities they need when the temperatures are this high,” Garrett said.

Patricia Ann Clark, who is currently experiencing homelessness in Austin, is appreciative of all the businesses who’ve donated water bottles. She says she will gladly accept all the water bottles she can get during the intense heat.

Clark says she has seizures and can’t be directly in the heat.

“It’s very difficult for me because of that,” she said.

She estimates she spends two to three hours a day riding on buses just to get out of the heat. If she is lucky she will make it to a public pool or a swimming hole.

Clark likes staying at the Salvation Army shelter but hasn’t been able to as they are full. Salvation Army says they are often full as temperatures climb like this.

So Clark sleeps in a public park.

“You can’t really sleep because it’s so hot, so you gotta stay up walk around or do whatever,” she said.

Corey Leith with Salavation Army explained that the Salvation Army has set up cooling centers in the Dallas area and is discussing the possibility of setting them up in the Austin area too.

“We want to see how efficiently we could run them,” he explained.

“It disproportionately impacts people who are experiencing homelessness”

First responders also notice the hurdles unsheltered people face when especially hot temperatures strike.

Dan Cummings, a clinical specialist and Community Health Paramedic with Austin Travis County EMS, works with disenfranchised populations in Travis County, including the homeless.

“In periods of time where we have multiple days in a row over 100 decrees, we have a significant increase in the number of environmental emergency calls,” Cummings said. “That affects the people experiencing homelessness disproportionately because they don’t have shelter to get out of the sun and get out of the heat like many other people do.”

He added that in addition to the homeless population, the elderly, people who are socially isolated, people using alcohol or drugs, and people who have chronic medical conditions are also disproportionately impacted by the heat.

On hot days like Tuesday, Cummings said that you need to drink fare more than the equivalent of one bottle of water, especially if you will be standing directly out in the sun.

“Hydration is a significant barrier to people who are experiencing homelessness because there’s not public drinking fountains every block or so, they often have to choose, ‘ok, what am I going to use my small amount of money for, am I going to buy water or how else am I going to spend it?'” Cummings explained.

Cummings thinks its a good thing that businesses are stepping up to provide cold water.

He added that it’s important to keep an eye out for people who are showing symptoms of heat exhaustion and dehydration.

“In situations where you don’t necessarily have the opportunity to ask somebody, ‘are you experiencing an emergency?’ you’re going to be looking for signs of where someone appears to be not alert, they’re not sweating anymore, they’re not standing upright talking and walking, those are the situations where you’d want to go ahead and call 9-1-1 and get somebody en route to be sure that they’re OK,” Cummings said.

“If they are standing and talking and they are able to have a conversation with you, just engage them with that and see if there’s anything that they need help with or if they have any questions about how they can get some resources,” he said.

As of Tuesday morning, ATCEMS reported that they had responded to 52 heat-related incidents since last Wednesday. Of those, they treated 47 patients and made 27 transports to local hospitals.

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