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Charlottesville 'cooling centers' offer escape from the heat

Amid extreme heat and triple digit temperatures across Virginia this week and through the weekend, Charlottesville is designating multiple public locations as “cooling centers.”

The centers include Key Recreation Center on Market Street, Tonsler Recreation Center on Cherry Avenue, the Salvation Army on Ridge Street, the Haven on Market Street and Central Library downtown, public places where people can go for air conditioning and a break from the heat.

But Charlottesville public safety spokesman Kyle Ervin said the city wants to be clear: These locations are simply public places people can go, just as they can many days of the week. Water and resources to help people handle the heat are all “handled internally,” separate from the city’s operations.

The public “cooling centers” are not overnight locations to escape from the heat, Ervin said.

But overnight relief from the heat is exactly what is most needed in Charlottesville — especially among the homeless population, according to the homeless people and staff members at the Haven day shelter who spoke to The Daily Progress.

The Haven provides showers, clean clothes, water, ice and an air-conditioned space to sit during the day.

A church from North Carolina dropped off a dozen cases of water and Gatorade Wednesday night, which the day shelter distributed to guests Thursday morning, according to Anna Mendez, executive director of the Haven.

“We’re encouraging guests to rest, to drink plenty of water while they are here, to think about their water needs after they leave and plan accordingly by taking water with them,” Mendez wrote to The Daily Progress.

But at night, the homeless population often has nowhere to go. People and Congregations Engaged in Ministry, an overnight shelter more often called PACEM, is only open in the winter. The 58-bed Salvation Army on Ridge Street is at capacity and has had to turn people away.

“There should be an overnight shelter open year-round,” Jamey Rush, assistant manager at the Haven, said. “Just how someone could freeze to death, someone could die of heat stroke.”

There are plenty of locations in Charlottesville where people can get a meal or groceries, part of the reason for the city’s increasing homeless population.

“The last couple of weeks I’ve noticed there’s been new homeless people coming into Charlottesville from out of state,” said Thomas Sloan, a Charlottesville resident who described himself as a friend to many of the area’s homeless and was spending time with some of them at Market Street Park on Thursday.

“You can eat here,” Severino Lividini, a Charlottesville resident who recently became homeless, told The Daily Progress. “There’s food everywhere. They give you food, but they don’t give you a place to sleep.”

Lividini said no one needs to travel far in Charlottesville to witness that firsthand.

“This morning at 5 a.m. I was walking up and down the street, and there’s just people sitting with blankets,” Lividini said. “You could see the misery in their faces.”

The Haven needs “more partnership” from the city in order to house people and protect them from the elements, according to Gabe Sherzada, a case manager at the Haven.

“They [the city] could certainly support us more,” Sherzada said. “They share that ideology that they care about the community, that they want to ensure that it’s livable for everyone, but we don’t see that investment or that support.”

The city advertised heat-relief locations on its social media pages and website “so that people can plan accordingly,” Ervin said. “If you’re walking to your car, walking to work and you’re outside, if you have preexisting medical conditions, the heat is dehydrating.”

While Ervin said the city’s cooling centers are not specifically for the homeless population, both the Salvation Army and the Haven, shelters for that population, are included among the list of colling centers. The people using the Haven’s services are almost exclusively people experiencing homelessness, housing instability and extreme poverty, Mendez said.

“We’re proud of our commitment to offer respite for the weary and would gladly welcome anyone exercising or on their way to or from work,” Mendez said.

“Obviously, the homeless population is outside more,” Ervin said. “But there are a lot of active people around Charlottesville, and people that commute with different modes of transit.”

“This affects everyone,” Ervin said.


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