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Heat wave increases homeless outreach; donations desperately needed

Jul 11, 2024, 8:23 AM | Updated: 7:56 pm

SALT LAKE CITYVolunteers of America Utah is upping its response in the community during the dangerous heat wave, making sure unsheltered residents stay safe and hydrated.

As the thermometer hit 102 Wednesday, a gold van pulled up to a park in Salt Lake City. Shawn Spalding and Michael Hard got out and swung open the back door, where water bottles were stacked in bins.

They began to load the bottles into bags when a man walked up with his bicycle.

“How are you doing? “Spalding asked. “Do you need some water? I got tons of water.”

“I do, yeah,” the man replied. Spalding asked how the man was holding up in the heat. “It’s been a little trying, but I’m hanging in there,” he answered.

Spalding and Hard spent their Wednesday traveling all over Salt Lake County, bringing relief to areas where those experiencing homelessness are staying.

Both work for the Volunteers of America Utah Homeless Outreach Team.

“We’re trying to just go to as many places as we can in the county,” Spalding said. “If we get any phone calls or requests from certain areas, we’re certainly going out there.”

They pass out water bottles and other supplies like food and clothing. Spalding brings a clipboard to document who he speaks to, gathers their information, and works to connect them to resources.

“We help everybody that we can,” he said. “If they need help with the detox or mental health or, everybody needs help with housing.”

‘Cool zones’ are now available across Salt Lake County to offer relief from the heat

This week, the biggest point of conversation is the heat. Spalding explained they increase their outreach and pass out more water when temperatures rise to dangerous levels.

Walking under a bridge next to the Jordan River, the duo checked in on a woman named Tasha trying to escape the sweltering sun.

“I got too hot over the past couple of days, and I’m just not feeling too great right now,” Tasha said.

They handed her several water bottles and asked what she needed.

“We don’t want them to get dehydrated. We don’t want them to get heat exhaustion,” Spalding said. “With heat stroke, you can actually die, and we don’t want that.”

Volunteers of America Utah is also seeing a spike inside their resource centers, explained Chief Development Officer Dan Benshoff.

“A place where they can cool off water showers, do laundry, meals, a bed, things like that — that happens 365 days out of the year,” Benshoff said. “But we tend to see population here and our client list rise on days and weeks like this.”

The Women’s Resource Center offers a place for female clients 18 and older to cool off during the day. Their Youth Center offers drop-in services for anyone 15 to 22.

Even if they reach capacity, Benshoff said they won’t turn anyone away from receiving help.

“We will make sure that they have whatever they need to get through the day — that’s water, that’s food, that’s anything else,” he said.

Lately, they’ve been running low on supplies like water.

He said they need donations including cases or pallets of water, sunscreen, underwear, socks and T-shirts of all sizes for all genders.

They are also looking for volunteers as the demand for their services increases.

“That helps at these times when it’s super hot and we get a lot more people coming in,” he said.

The Road Home also posted a need for donations, listing similar items.

Benshoff explained many unsheltered residents may not be comfortable seeking out shelter or services on their own, even in the unbearable weather.

That’s why they offer the outreach team.

“We’re there to kind of break down those barriers and help people into those services,” he said.

Spalding and Hard asked Tasha if they could come check on her again Thursday and Friday to see how she’s doing.

Tasha said it’s been hard to do anything when it’s hot.

“You get so thankful for every little thing that they can help you with,” she said, getting choked up as she spoke. “Because as hard as you try, there’s only so much you can do.”

With enough water to last another day, Tasha said her goodbyes to Spalding and Hard, and they walked back to the van.

“It’s just good to meet them in person to see how we can best help them,” Spalding said. “And I think they appreciate us definitely being there coming to them.”

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Heat wave increases homeless outreach; donations desperately needed