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Cooling center will open Sunday

With temperatures expected to top 100 degrees Saturday and Sunday, an excessive heat warning has been issued by the National Weather Service (NWS), meaning extended outdoor exposure will increase chances for heat related illness, especially for sensitive groups and people without access to air conditioning. A cooling center will be open in Ashland on Sunday for those seeking relief from the heat.

Because heat can be deadly, especially for the very young, very old and those who lack shelter, the city of Ashland is opening the Community Center on Winburn Way next to Pioneer Hall as a cooling center from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

“We deeply appreciate that the city is being proactive in preventing sickness and even potential death by extreme temperatures," said Vanessa Houk, who asked for the opening of a cooling center. "Climate change is a real thing.”

“The building is air conditioned and drinks and lights snacks will be provided,” Houk said. she also suggested community members touch base with each other. “Please reach out to your elderly neighbors and anyone who might be vulnerable to the heat and let them know about this resource.”

Houk had requested Saturday as well but the building was already in use. “Some suggested places to go on Saturday include the library, Garfield Park splash pad and the swimming hole in Lithia Park.”

Two deaths have been reported during the current heat wave in the West. A 72-year-old homeless man was found dead in a car and an 87-year-old died outdoors.in Santa Clara County in the Bay Area south of San Francisco. Both deaths were on Monday and attributed to heat stroke.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, roughly 666 people die each year from extreme heat, or 31 percent of the 2,000 who die from various weather conditions annually. As summer approaches full bake status in Ashland, the temperature is expected to get hot — very hot — this weekend.

The high in Ashland will reach 102 Saturday and 100 on Sunday, according to the NWS forecast, tapering off to 90 Monday, 82 Tuesday, 80 Wednesday, 82 Thursday and 85 Friday, with lows ranging from 66 Saturday night to 53 Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

The NWS heat warning for Southern Oregon and Northern California says temperatures could climb as high as 109 in valley locations.

One of the key factors in heat related illness is dehydration. This condition is more complex among those without shelter. According to National Health Care for the Homeless (NHCH), access to water and restrooms are vital in high heat.

“Persons who live on the streets or in shelters are at increased risk for dehydration in warmer climates, particularly during summer months," according to NHCH. "Be aware that limited access to water or bathroom facilities may interfere with treatment adherence. Work with service providers in your community to assure that homeless people have easy access to potable water and restrooms.”

There is no specific tracking for deaths of unhoused people in high heat, but medical providers recognize it as a serious health risk according to the advocacy group, My Brother’s Keeper, which says that, “Without relief from the heat, many members of the homeless community may suffer from heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Sadly, death as a result of these symptoms is not uncommon.”

Ashland Interim City Administrator John Karns approved of the use of the Community Center so vulnerable populations can stay cool.

“We’ve also asked the police to keep water bottles on them," Karns said, "and if they see someone who looks compromised, offer it to them.”

As to opening up cooling centers on other days, Karns says they’ll take it a day at a time and see how it goes.

“There’s an element of people who are more health compromised, I worry about them more," he said. "A lot of folks without a roof are young and healthy and get by fine.”

Other community members are filling water bottles especially for the homeless and vulnerable to use on site and take with them. But water fountains and places which allow people to get free water could be vital since water is heavy and hard to carry if you live out of a backpack. “I learned it the hard way. Water is heavy to carry. I used to have two big water bottles on me all the time,” says Isaiah who chooses not to give a last name but is homeless. “I can’t do it anymore. It’s too heavy and the weight makes me worse off.”

— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at julieanneakins@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.