This past week record-high temperatures ravaged northeasterners from Washington, D.C. to Manhattan, New York.
Being in the northeast during a heat wave is like being down south during a snow flurry: people rush to the supermarkets to stock-up on necessary supplies, service personnel are deployed en masse to tackle problems posed by the epoch-making temperatures, and conversations are dominated by indignant comments about the weather.
Utility companies have dispatched a record number of repairmen, and people have been tirelessly advised to limit their air conditioner and water use in response to the heightened temperatures. In addition to limiting use of certain utilities, the federal government has also taken it upon itself to set up “cooling stations” in response to the record-breaking temps.
After hearing of these ambiguous facilities one morning while listening to the radio, curiosity compelled me to further explore what exactly a cooling station was.
I set out from the White House for a thirty-minute walk up 14th St. to one of D.C.’s four public cooling stations, the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center. Needless to say, the facility was not anywhere close to the city’s center.
As I approached the large brick building, I noticed two homeless-looking men exiting.
It was necessary to go through security to enter, so while placing my bag on the conveyor belt, I asked the guard to point me in the direction of the cooling center.
“You’re in it,” he replied.
Confused, I looked around the large, empty lobby, relatively void of both people and seating.
“So, it’s basically just a big, air-conditioned room?” I asked.
“Yep. Usually we have water, but not today.”
“Is it usually pretty crowded?”
“Well, we have people going in and out of the building for different reasons.”
And with that, the guard resumed a conversation with one of his co-workers.
Upon leaving, I began to wonder: how is this any different from a McDonald’s or other air-conditioned venues open to the public…? McDonald’s distributes free non-bottled water. McDonald’s is air-conditioned – not to mention, McDonald’s has seating and is conveniently located in many areas throughout the district. However, unlike these cooling centers, McDonald’s is not an ineffective attempt by the federal government to address health problems posed by oppressively high temperatures.
Granted, these D.C. cooling centers were founded in a legitimate attempt to offer relief to the neglected elderly and one of the nation’s largest homeless populations. But then, what do these centers offer that air-conditioned homeless shelters (of which, there are many) do not? And where were all the elderly for whom these facilities were also designed?
According to Robin of the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, these facilities are typically staffed with a minimum of two people and are heavily trafficked throughout the day by “business men coming out of meetings and people passing on the streets.”
The government’s mismanaged effort to offer relief to those in need has amounted to nothing more than providing air-conditioned lobbies and bottled water (well, sometimes) for passing businessmen and pedestrians while people in need of serious relief continue to die around the country.