No Respite From Heat For Austin’s Homeless | Austin, Texas | Statesman
Joe Steve sprawls across a makeshift bed in the woods, motionless and sweating in the midday heat.
It’s 100 degrees, and the 24-year-old homeless man is trying to rest in a shady of a patch of woods off Barton Springs Road. His cheeks are flushed, his nose sunburned. He has no water, no fresh clothes and no desire move right now.
“I walk around and sweat most of the time,” Steve said. “It’s way too hot to live out here.”
A scorching heat wave that shows no signs of flagging has killed scores of people across the country over the past few months, and homeless people are among those most vulnerable to heat-related illnesses. Although about 700 of the city’s estimated 4,000 homeless people sleep in shelters, many others live in the woods, in cars or under bridges, where respite from the heat is nearly impossible.
But determining how many homeless people have succumbed to the searing temperatures is difficult because so many have pre-existing medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart problems, that are often cited as the cause of death, said Neil Donovan , executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington. Plus, in general, it can take months for health departments to determine an official cause of death.
Travis County had two heat-related deaths earlier this year, one in April and one in May , said Carole Barasch , spokeswoman for the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department.
Local medical clinics said they’re seeing lots of heat-related problems with the homeless, including dehydration, severe sunburns and skin cancer. Those with diabetes are struggling to control their disease because their medication doesn’t last long in the heat.
“There was one man whose insulin had actually crystallized because of the heat,” said Diane Scheler , charge nurse at the clinic at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless downtown. “It only lasts a short time.”
Texas summers are always hot, and this one has been scorching. With an average high of 102 , last month was the hottest July on record at Camp Mabry, according to the National Weather Service. August is expected to be even worse.