This week, by seven a.m. it's been nearing 90 degrees, and by noon, temperatures have hit the 100s. Even in the Chicago summer, that's the kind of heat that stops you in your tracks. It's the kind of heat where you can't imagine not turning on an air conditioner, or at least a fan. That's what Chicago's poor are dealing with this summer, though -- life threatening temperatures and dangerous conditions that they're unable to escape.
In Chicago, winter is often considered to be the most dangerous season, but it's just the opposite for those in poverty. At Heartland Alliance, the Midwest's leading anti-poverty organization, where I work, heat produces a complicated and dangerous set of issues for our participants and for anyone who can't afford to cool themselves.
Much of this danger stems from the decrease in community resources. In the winter, more beds are available in shelters, and every effort is made to ensure people have a decent meal, whether it be from a soup kitchen or through school breakfasts and lunches. In the summer, many of these resources shrink and disappear. Extra beds are put away under the assumption of more hospitable weather, and children are released from class for the summer.
As the Chicago Tribune has noted, the result is a dire hardship on those in poverty. The lack of available cooling centers makes them subject to the dangerous conditions outside. For those who have a home in which to place them, air conditioners and electricity bills are expensive and fans aren't enough to keep an apartment cool in such extreme temperatures.
The intersection of finances and heat shouldn't be this rife with tragedy. Every year, we read stories of people who died quietly in their homes, overcome by a 105 degree day. Often they are elderly, infirm, poor and while they may have died from overheating, the root cause is greater -- poverty. And during every heat wave, as the evening news reminds us, gun violence increases and the death toll rises, scarring not only those whose loved ones are taken from them, but those who witness it.
No one should have to live and die like this -- too poor to survive the summer. As you find yourself outside this weekend, I encourage you to share your resources with those who struggle in this heat wave. Share a cool bottle of water if you can -- everything helps. More than anything else, though, have compassion and remember the kindnesses we offer during winter's holiday season -- they're needed right now more than ever.
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