IMPERIAL VALLEY — As the Imperial Valley experiences an excessive heat warning this week, the homeless are becoming another casualty of the pandemic.
Social-distancing requirements have forced cooling centers to close, said Maria Peinado of the Imperial County Public Health Department in email on July 13, a day in which temperatures reached 113 degrees.
“There have been challenges in establishing cool centers this year since many of the agencies that previously offered their locations as cool centers continue to be impacted by COVID-19 and are closed,” Peinado said.
In years past, the Valley has boasted as many as 30 facilities designated as cool centers to provide the homeless, the elderly and other vulnerable groups with protection from the heat in air-conditioned spaces.
“Although cool centers have not been identified in the Imperial County, staff is aware that it is a service needed in our community due to extreme heat,” Peinado said. “It is important to note that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, cool centers will need to follow guidance established by the CDC to assure safety precautions are in place to prevent further spread of COVID-19.”
El Centro has taken a pre-emptive measure by announcing in a July 10 Facebook post places where the homeless can utilize existing outdoor infrastructure at specified public places.
“In the event they need refuge from the sun, we identified different places outdoors. I prefer to call them comfort stations, meaning you can go there take a little break and cool off,” said El Centro Community Services Director Adriana Nava.
El Centro’s comfort stations are at City Hall, Bucklin Park and the El Centro Transfer Terminal, Nava said.
Historically, El Centro’s cool centers have been the Public Library, the El Centro Community Center and the Adult Center, among other locations.
At a traditional cool center in El Centro, the homeless had water fountains and restrooms and the temperature was set to a cool 72 degrees, Nava said.
“Because of COVID-19, we are using facilities to help people who need water and to cool off. For instance, at Bucklin Park a person could get water and some shade,” Nava said. “All three of our comfort stations are different but they all provide some type of refuge. At the transfer terminal there are shaded ramadas and benches, water fountains and two restrooms.”
Having dedicated her life’s work to helping the homeless, Spread the Love Charity founder Jessica Solorio recognizes that for the time being, local health officials have their hands tied.
“I think it is super sad that there are no cooling centers, but it is understandable with these times. The county needs to figure out a way to get those water stations implemented. Yesterday was a heat warning day. There are going to be a lot more heat strokes and fainting,” Solorio said, adding the watering stations are not enough but are better than nothing.
“When facilities are made for the homeless, they need to be monitored and the question is how do we make a place for the homeless to come,” Solorio said.
She added she thinks the county should put pressure on the cities to make their own water stations. Throughout the summer Spread the Love adds frozen bottles of water to the to the normal assortment of goods they supply to the local homeless population on their route from Calexico to Brawley.