How Many Cooling Centers Will Be Open During LA’s Heat Wave? Who Knows?
While Los Angeles County is in the midst of a prolonged triple-digit heat wave, officials are rushing to open more places where people can cool down.
It’s expected to get worse over the holiday weekend, during a time when many cooling centers are (so far) expected to be closed.
Both L.A. County and City run dozens of cooling centers, but — unlike the heat — they’re subject to regular business hours. Libraries are considered permanent cooling centers and make up about 60% of those centers, according to the county’s Aug. 29 update.
But we’re heading into a holiday weekend. On Sunday and Labor Day, many libraries have shortened hours or are completely closed — unless officials can get temporary locations lined up. Unhoused advocates say thousands of people will be at risk in dangerous heat.
The Gap Puts Unhoused People At Risk
Cooling centers are open for all residents in the county. That said, for unhoused people they may be the only place to escape high heat. Accessing these centers may not be easy, though, depending on how far away they are and whether regulations pose barriers. More than 60,000 people are experiencing homelessness.
For example, unhoused people with pets aren’t allowed to bring them into libraries, and cooling centers in parks require animals to be in a crate. Then there’s the issue of even getting to a center. The facilities can be multiple city blocks apart, if not miles, which means people need to get there on bus or foot. When locations close without a replacement, finding a cool place becomes harder.
“We've been asking for adequate cooling stations in most of the district areas and that has not been solved,” said Theo Henderson, who hosts the podcast We The Unhoused.
Henderson would sit in a coffee shop to get relief when he was unhoused, but solutions like that are shrinking fast. With city ordinance 41.18, it’s now illegal for unhoused folks to “sit, lie or sleep” on any street, sidewalk, or other public walkway that is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The L.A. City Council voted earlier this month to expand the ban to near schools and daycares.
“There is going to be a high percentage of unhoused people having heat strokes [and] emergencies who already have pre-existing medical issues,” Henderson said.
Advocates Say More Needs To Happen
Andreina Kniss, an organizer for the advocacy group KTown For All, goes out every Saturday around the densely-packed and concrete-heavy Koreatown area to give necessities like tents, blankets and frozen water bottles during times when the weather is unbearable.
It’s simply not enough, Kniss said.
Kniss thinks L.A. County’s response is insufficient. She said people are going to die. Heat is the most common cause of weather-related deaths in the U.S. She also worries that people who are disabled won’t have a nearby location to go to if libraries are closed.
“A lot of unhoused people are disabled and can’t move around very easily,” Kniss said. “A lot of elderly folks have mobility issues. So asking an unhoused person who might be a couple of miles from their local library to go walk over there is literally asking for a heatstroke.”
She also said measures like 41.18 reflect conditions that alienate unhoused people.
“A lot of unhoused people have very negative experiences being kicked out of public spaces like public libraries, out of shops that have a AC, and out of parks by park rangers,” Kniss said. “So there's this hostility that doesn't make these places feel welcome to unhoused people and then they’re announcing this is where you go to stay cool.”
She’s also concerned about making unhoused people aware of cooling center locations and how dangerous heat can be. She sees the tweets, but she wonders what the city is doing to reach people who don’t have readily available and adequate access to social media. It’s hard to call 2-1-1 or 3-1-1 if you don’t have a phone.
“How many people know that if you’re dying from a heatstroke, you walk to a library?” Kniss said. “A lot of them might think that it’s not worth it to go there because a lot of places won’t let you come in with your belongings. Some of them won’t let you come in with a tent, a backpack and your dog. They might have to consider, should I give up my tent and stuff, and it might get stolen while I’m gone.”
Kniss also points out some communities only have one library in their area — remember there are more than 60,000 unhoused people in L.A. County.
Are More Cooling Centers Coming?
Yes, but it’s unclear how many, where they’ll be, and how long they’ll be open.
L.A. County’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is trying to fill the gap. Emily Montanez, an associate director at OEM, said her office is working to get staff in temporary cooling centers, which the county calls “augmented cooling centers.” But it’s a struggle.
“We can't just get staff there,” Montanez said. “It’s a holiday, so county employees are also on vacation. The focus is still Sunday, Monday because doors are closed.”
Montanez said her office hasn’t determined a “magical number” of how many additional cooling centers they’ll open and where, but it’s looking closely at areas that get the brunt of heat waves (for example, East L.A., Antelope Valley and East San Gabriel Valley).
Jessica Lee with the L.A. County library system said that more libraries will be designated as cooling centers by Friday, which will be included in the Ready L.A. County map.
“For our libraries that will be designated as cooling centers on Sunday and Monday, they will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m,” Lee said in an email. “For our libraries that are already open on Sundays, this will mean that they are extending their hours where they will be open earlier and stay open longer.”
You’ll want to keep an eye out for the new locations on the county’s website. (Or, check out the map below from Ready L.A. County.) On Tuesday, nine temporary cooling centers opened with extended hours and days, from Aug. 31 to Sept. 5, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
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