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As heat wave approaches, cooling centers for homeless residents are scarce

Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media

With a heatwave predicted for much of Delaware this week, homeless Delawareans need places to keep cool.

The winter risks to people living outside are better-recognized; the death of 65-year-old Edgar Mack on a Newark sidewalk during a snowstorm last year drew broad public attention.

But as temperatures approach 100 degrees in southern and central Delaware this week, the risks to the state’s growing number of people living unsheltered are also high – particularly dehydration. In 2016, the deaths of two homeless men in Dover from combinations of health problems and heat exposure spurred a public vigil.

The risk is highest in Sussex County, which will see the hottest temperatures and has the fastest-growing number of people living unsheltered.

But in Kent and Sussex Counties, weather emergency shelter options are generally limited to winter storms leaving service providers to direct clients to public libraries as ad-hoc cooling centers.

Milford Advocacy for the Homeless president Martha Gery says her organization refers people to a drop-in center run by Brandywine Counseling or the local public library but is searching for a space in Milford for a shelter to assist several dozen local unhoused residents.

“We’re looking for something that could be available so that people during the summer could come in and get cool and during the winter get warm, " she said. "Because we don’t have a lot of places where they can go.”

In Kent County, Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing will keep its day center open until roughly 2:00 in the afternoon as a place to keep cool. Other nonprofits in Sussex County say they are preparing to distribute water to those living in encampments.

But service providers say a more consistent plan for heat waves is needed for those living in isolated encampments across southern Delaware.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.