You’re aware of the overnight shelters for the homeless when winter temperatures drop below 20 degrees? Now climate change (or something) has created the flip side, throwing open shelters from noon to 5 p.m. when temperatures become not just intolerable, but life-threatening.
As it has helped support the winter shelter in the Community Center, Temple Emek Shalom has created a large, air-conditioned space inside where anyone can enjoy cool water and meals from Ashland Emergency Food Bank, while lounging around big tables, playing with arts-crafts tools or surfing Facebook and chatting.
The “cool center” is shepherded by Vanessa and Jason Houk, longtime activists for those in need. They have been getting the word out to alert the homeless or those in homes without air conditioning and even going out to find and transport people to the cool shelter, which is a couple miles out on East Main.
With temperatures creeping toward 110 degrees, or at least 95 for many weeks now (and into the forecastable future) social agencies, workers and places of worship have responded, says Joshua Boettiger, rabbi of Temple Emek Shalom, which also sponsors the winter shelter, along with Trinity Episcopal Church, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and the city of Ashland.
“We’re happy to make our space available in the coming hot days and to be part of the amazing team working for those in need here,” he says. “It’s easy for us to open our space. Most of us are familiar with the winter shelter system and the vulnerability at that time and we continue to build on that. People don’t have a place to go inside.”
Working as a volunteer in the shelter, Vanessa Houk says, “We saw the need for this. We’re worried about people being out in such temperatures. It’s hard enough for the elderly and homeless to be in heat, but when it gets over 110, it’s so hard to acclimate.
“This is a calm, quiet and cool space to head to, One woman set up a corner space to weave and have an office.” Almost every day of the week now, there’s a gratis meal somewhere in Ashland, she adds.
Many are both homeless and volunteers in the shelter.
“I was homeless when I got here. I have no air conditioning in my apartment," says Jeannie Martin. When she lived in the summer heat of Redding, she says she saw a man just drop dead, walking to his car. That’s not going to happen here, she adds. She made peanut butter sandwiches and popcorn for shelter seekers Wednesday at midday.
Barbara Bain notes she and many others like to escape the heat in the “fairy ponds” just south of the city reservoir, but there comes a time they want to get inside where it’s cool and dry.
“It’s too hot for the homeless,” says Dylan. ”It’s nice to be out of the heat in the creek or fairy ponds.”
Volunteer Michael Hinman lives in a motor home, but without air conditioning, that’s impossible. “I know what it’s like being in the heat. I really see the need of this service. I can serve and get cool at the same time.”
Ideally, says Boettiger, “we’re working toward the time when we don’t have housing insecurity. This is a continuation of our work in the faith community toward that goal.”
The center is set to be open again today, Aug. 3, at Temple Emek Shalom at 1800 East Main St. between Walker Avenue and Tolman Creek Road.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.