Inside the Feds’ Chill Rooms

July 9th, 2010 at 5:38 pm | 14 Comments |

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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.

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14 Comments so far ↓

  • pemulis

    The ignorance here is astounding. As an Effete White Conservative (EWC), I don’t expect you to have much experience in day-to-day situations involving the homeless, but put on your Thinking (Burberry stocking) Cap for a second. How many McDonald’s restaurants have you seen opening their doors to large groups of homeless men lacking the ability to pay for their food? The reason why they don’t do it? Scares away potential EWC customers.

  • LauraNo

    Another whacky conservative tirade against anything meant to help anyone. I do not (and I’m sure they don’t either) consider McDonald’s to be responsible for the welfare of my fellow Americans. Going to one spot and reporting on it is not exactly the height of journalism. You should probably go to at least two of them.

  • TerryF98

    Story= Idiocy. Why is Sarco not involved in this scandal?

  • msmilack

    You quote “Robin” from Homeland Security: is that a first name or a last name? Who is Robin, what is that person’s position in Homeland Security? What is the role of Homeland Security in relation to cooling centers? When were they started, how many people have they accommodated, what cities are they used in, is it only in America, what are the statistics related to their success or failure, what is the temperature in the room, how are people supposed to know about them, and so on and so on. Why should we accept your opinion based on a single visit to an empty room? Did you spend the day there, visit multiple centers, interview people who use the rooms (in the room or in McDonald’s, your alternative venue of choice); why not compare the make-up of the population using the facility at different times of day? Is it marked, advertised, how to people get there? I think this could be an interesting story but it requires detailed research. I’m sorry to sound critical, it’s the teacher in me and the reader who wants to be informed.

  • Stranded Wind

    I’m amazed anyone puts this sort of douchebaggery in a public forum. Washington D.C. has a truly impressive homeless population and anything to keep them out of the emergency room is a wise investment. This would be, uhh, good policy, which is something that seems to have escaped conservatives for the last decade or so.

    There are sensible, thought provoking things posted here. This is not one of them.

  • LB

    This story is just asinine.

  • sinz54

    Stranded Wind: Washington D.C. has a truly impressive homeless population and anything to keep them out of the emergency room is a wise investment.
    The wisest investment for our nation’s capital would be policies to reduce the number of bums (now euphemistically referred to as “homeless”).

    msmilack:

    The real question is why are there so many bums?

    U.S. News & World Report did a study of bums about 20 years ago. What they found was that many of them had severe mental problems; others were drug addicts.

    These folks used to be institutionalized, cared for and out of the way of the rest of us, until well-meaning liberals closed those places and put these folks–who are unable to care for themselves–onto the streets.

    That policy should be reversed. A network of mental health and drug treatment facilities should be built for these people. Anyone who is wandering the streets with severe mental health problems should be taken off the streets and placed in one of those facilities. There they can receive the care they need–without wandering the streets and contributing to the aura of urban decay perceived by so many decent people.

  • JohnnyA

    sinz54:
    “That policy should be reversed. A network of mental health and drug treatment facilities should be built for these people. Anyone who is wandering the streets with severe mental health problems should be taken off the streets and placed in one of those facilities. There they can receive the care they need–without wandering the streets and contributing to the aura of urban decay perceived by so many decent people.”

    I agree completely, but the problem is that we once had this approach in our country and it ended poorly. While it began well, funding cuts and lack of enforcement of quality of care/treatment led to hellish conditions in many of these facilities with many abuses by the staff. Rather than treating those patients that could be rehabilitated for release, the focus at many institutions became controlling patients as cheaply as possible, which generally involved keeping them heavily medicated. Entering an institution was generally a one way transaction – even if you showed a recovery it was very difficult to get released. Finally, many folks came to believe that additional abuses were taking place – people being committed because of sexual orientation, political beliefs or just running afoul of the mayor of certain small towns. As a result, we’re on the far end of the pendulum now and most people are against mandatory institutionalization of any except the most extreme cases.

    I would agree that we could (and should) make an exception and commit those living on the streets. But, to provide proper treatment costs money and results in a bigger government and more government in our lives which many of our fellow republicans/conservatives will oppose out of hand regardless of any benefit we may get from it.

  • msmilack

    sinz54
    Ryan’s article wasn’t about the homeless though that would have been a good topic of which the cooling centers might have been an interesting aspect; it is certainly a subject about which I would like to learn more and like you, I too wish the country could find a solution. Unlike you, I do not think of homeless people as “bums”. It takes little more than losing one’s job and being two paychecks away from the last receipt of that lost income for many struggling families to find themselves in this most unfortunate position. You’d be shocked how quickly it can happen to almost anyone when times are tough and the least we can do is feel empathy and look toward a solution. President Obama recently addressed the problem with a plan to eliminate (or alter) the homeless problem in ten years. Some people are working on it now.

  • TerryF98

    A Sinz type solution to the “bums” of this world would include forced euthanasia.

  • SFTor1

    Number one dismantler of mental institutions in California:

    Ronald Reagan.

    Now there’s a misguided liberal for you, Sinz.

  • Watusie

    Good grief what a horrible – and horribly written – piece.

  • Rabiner

    “These folks used to be institutionalized, cared for and out of the way of the rest of us, until well-meaning liberals closed those places and put these folks–who are unable to care for themselves–onto the streets.”

    You mean Ronald Reagan?

    This story is completely asinine as already mentioned. It fails to consider why these cooling centers are needed. It isn’t for the author but for the homeless population or elderly.

  • rbottoms

    I’m amazed anyone puts this sort of douchebaggery in a public forum. Washington D.C. has a truly impressive homeless population and anything to keep them out of the emergency room is a wise investment. This would be, uhh, good policy, which is something that seems to have escaped conservatives for the last decade or so.

    Conservatives must strive to be perceived as heartless a**holes at all times. Since that’s their default position on anything having to do with serving the poor, that seems to be the way to go.