With record-high temperatures, volunteers help keep the vulnerable safe

IMAGE: CNS/Nancy Wiechec

By Nancy Wiechec

(CNS) — As triple-digit temperatures hit the desert Southwest, charities are
working overtime to keep homeless and vulnerable people safe.

is our winter,” said Shannon Clancy, chief philanthropy officer for the
Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix. “Out West when the heat turns
up, the need actually increases.”

far in June, the Catholic society has opened its dining centers for heat relief
and emergency overnight shelter. The homeless and those without proper home
cooling can rest and get water and snacks.

and Lisa Williams took cover in the society’s expansive downtown dining room
June 4. An excessive heat warning was issued and the temperature rose to a
record 115 degrees that day.

takes medication that can make him nauseated and dizzy if he’s out in the sun.

lucky to find a place like this,” he said.

couple has been homeless since March, bouncing between a friend’s home and
shelters. They have a Section 8 housing voucher but can’t find an available
apartment. They said they felt “stuck” and weren’t sure what they
would do next.

day, in the kitchen’s walk-in cooler, dining room coordinator Theresa Jones was
stacking heavy cases of bottled water.

long as (water) keeps coming in, we’ll be handing it out,” she said.

used to stay out here on the street,” Jones told Catholic News Service. “At
the time, they didn’t have heat relief for the homeless. We had to stay outside
in the heat and hope somebody would come by with water and food and ask if we
were all right.”

is no longer homeless, but she recalls trying to sleep in the brutal heat.

don’t want to even move. You’re baking, you feel like your whole body will
melt. I use to put cardboard down just to separate myself from the hot gravel.
It helped very little.”

said charities serving the homeless had a sort of awakening in 2005 when some
30 people died of heat-related illnesses during a particularly bad Phoenix

the society and its network of parishes and donors mobilize water and volunteer
drives and help raise awareness of the community’s summertime needs.

you’re out in the elements in heat like this, it’s very dangerous,” Clancy
said. “Your body temperature continues to rise and you may not be able to
cool off. Our heat relief efforts bring people inside and give them a chance to
do that.”

society also dispatches mobile heat relief each weekday. A van filled with
water, food, clothing, sunscreen and other resources targets areas where people
live in the open.

homeless are not the only concern of the society. Families already struggling
to meet expenses also are hit hard in hotter months.

have high utility bills because of the air-conditioning that’s running all
summer. We have families with kids out of school, so they may not have access
to school food programs, so their food costs go up,” Clancy said. It’s at
this time of year that it gets really stressful for families and they just have
a hard time making it through the month with their income.”

Cameron is a single mother of two who works at a food warehouse as a product
verifier making about $10 an hour. Cameron and her children eat dinner at St.
Vincent’s family dining room most evenings.

what I make, it’s difficult,” she said. “And summer is a lot harder.
We come here for dinner because it helps with our food costs.”

said utility bills for the house she lives in with her sister and children can
reach as high as $500 a month in the summer.

Society of St. Vincent de Paul assists families in several ways: With daily
meals — more than 4,000 are served each day — with food boxes, with vouchers
for utility payments and with other housing assistance.

year in Phoenix, the society delivered $3.5 million in direct aid for utilities
and shelter.

people leave town for vacations and to escape the heat, summer can create a
lull in donations and volunteers, who do the majority of the work for many aid

of us are looking for volunteers to help out and help support us,” Clancy

Vincent de Paul and a local TV station teamed up to launch the “Be a
Summer Action Hero” campaign encouraging people to hold food and water
drives and volunteer or give to the society’s summer relief efforts. It also
educates about the hot weather and what it means for vulnerable families and

said Pope Francis’ focus on mercy and his call to engage in the Year of Mercy
is the perfect opportunity for people to help others.

Catholics we are always looking for ways that we can engage with people,”
Clancy said. “It’s not so much just handing people food or delivering a
food box. It’s really offering in that one-to-one service the opportunity for
both people to be transformed.”

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