During the hottest months of the year, homeless residents in the Killeen area may not have the luxury of sitting in their living room with the air condition set to a cool 71 degrees.
And in Central Texas — known for scorching summers — the options for homeless folks to cool down during the hottest days are few and far between.
The average temperature during the summer months is formidable: June, 92 degrees, July, 95 degrees, and August 96 degrees. Daily temperatures perennially top 100. And this summer has been extra hot, with temps in Killeen reaching more than 110.
“I don’t have a home and most of my day is determined by the shelter,” said Jack, a homeless man in Killeen who did not want to use his last name. “We have to leave the shelter in the morning, but we can go back after lunch.”
Jack is referring to the homeless shelter in downtown Killeen, which is open to the homeless during the night, but not during daytime hours.
Some homeless people simply try to find shade and try to stay hydrated and cool with water,
“I’ve been homeless for three years and have not lived anywhere,” said Bryce Dunn, 20, originally from Kansas. “Most people I know try to drink lots of water and douse themselves with it … and look for shade.”
This reflects the facts published by the National Health Care for the Homelessness Council.
Homeless people who live in regions with hotter climate are at an increased risk for dehydration and the risk increases during the summer months. Limited access to bathrooms and other facilities only exacerbate the problem, according to officials.
For example, on the famed skid row in Los Angeles, there are only nine toilets to service the homeless population that surpasses 1,500 people, according to media reports.
According to a Huffington Post article, in addition to being at risk for dehydration, homeless people also face an increased risk of severe sunburn, delirium, heat cramps and heat stroke.
Much like Central Texas, in cities like Los Angeles or Phoenix, where temperatures often surpass the 100-degree mark, it is not unusual for people who attempt to bed down on concrete to wake in the night with their hair soaking wet with sweat.
Maricopa County, Arizona, has published strategies utilized by their Heat Relief Regional Network that details options for the homeless population in times of extreme heat.
With hydration stations throughout the county, there are also cool indoor facilities for so-called “heat refugees” dispersed throughout the region, collection sites for the donation of bottled water, lip-balm, sunscreen, and prepackaged snacks to be dispersed throughout the county.
Staying cool in the summer months represents a challenge in an era of budget cuts and for a population facing stigmas on many levels: mental health, joblessness and those with political resentments.
Bell County Indigent Services and the Killeen Homeless Outreach Team recently conducted a “triage” for the area homeless population, providing haircuts, clothes and pathways for a job and stability.
A 2018 Central Texas Homeless Coalition survey found a homeless population of 325 people residing in Bell County and the number is increasing, according to officials.
There are a variety of services available to the Bell County homeless population — especially as it relates to quarterly triage events: screening for eligibility health services, opportunities for drug treatment, assistance providing a basic shelter, and information regarding the availability of hot meals at relevant faith -based institutions.
Ebony Jackson, of Bell County Indigent Health Care programs, said collaboration is new and the information sharing is vital for programs to be effective.