Above: Tim wets himself down with water to cool off during St. Vincent de Paul's heat relief operations at the Sunnyslope Dining Room.
First thing in the morning after spending the night on the street, Timothy — or “Tim,” as he likes to be called — is at the gates waiting for St. Vincent de Paul’s Sunnyslope Dining Room to open for the day.
He gets a meal, but his priority is getting out of the heat and stocking up on water.
“It’s just unbelievable how hot it is already, you know,” Tim says.
“It’s just unbelievable how hot it is already.”
This May, the Valley saw an early rise of temperatures, consistently breaking 100+ degrees Fahrenheit outside.
The Sunnyslope Dining Room is one of four cooling stations SVdP operates each summer as part of Maricopa Association of Governments Heat Relief Network. Although SVdP’s heat relief services technically begin June 1, the early heat had the Sunnyslope team already hosting a few unofficial heat relief days inside.
“The heat relief, I count on it,” says Tim, who is 56 and has lived on and off the streets for years now. After losing his license, he lost his job as a concrete finisher. Without an income, he eventually lost his home and struggled to maintain alternative housing.
“When you're down it’s hard to get back up to that level again,” Tim says. “And when you’re on the street, all I’ve got is my backpack pretty much. If somebody steals that, that’s your ID, everything, your phone, all that, you know.”
The Sunnyslope Dining Room is a rare resource in north Phoenix for people experiencing homelessness and the only cooling station in the neighborhood that isn’t a library or retirement-community-only space.
“There’s only a few places that do heat relief around here,” Tim says. “This one is pretty known.”
Heat relief isn’t complicated. Once inside, dining room guests can hang out in the air-conditioned space, get hydrated with ice water, eat snacks, and rest.
“I just lay on the tile and let it suck the heat right out of me.”
“It’s nice and cool. The tile’s nice and cool. I don’t even get the pads, I just lay on the tile and let it suck the heat right out of me,” says Tim, who enjoys the relief hours in between meal services. “Most people just get in here and fall asleep right away. I try to enjoy the cool first before I fall asleep.”
Like many people experiencing homelessness, Tim has ridden the bus or wandered the grocery store just to get some time in the air-conditioning. But with a dog, those usual escapes aren’t available to him. Hence why the dining room allows dogs inside during relief hours.
Each day Tim stocks up on water, hoping to get six to eight bottles to get through the day and night.
“If it wasn’t for the cold water, I’d probably be dying,” he says. “It’s unbearable.”
“If it wasn’t for the cold water, I’d probably be dying. It’s unbearable.”
On days when water is in short supply and high demand, he takes four bottles – the minimum he needs to survive the night and still leave enough for others.
“Four to five bottles will last me all night,” Tim says. “I’ll drink two before I go to bed, sleep and then wake up somewhere in the middle of the night and drink one. Cause I’m always parched when I wake up in the morning, I have to have at least one for the morning.”
Tim hopes he can one day get back to working, which he says helps the day go by faster. He’s not sure he can still handle the physical demand of concrete finishing, but he’s open to work opportunities. For now, he has the Sunnyslope Dining Room to help keep him cool, hydrated and alive while he sorts out the rest.
St. Vincent de Paul’s 100 Days of Summer campaign returns for its second year, running from Memorial Day through Labor Day. You are invited to join in the efforts to offer water, food, and shelter to our most vulnerable neighbors throughout the summer's extreme season of need. Volunteer, host a drive, or donate to help provide everything from relief to people experiencing homelessness, to rent and utility assistance to keep families out of the heat and in their homes.
Join SVdP for 100 Days of Summer and find out how you can shine by sharing this season. Visit 100days.stvincentdepaul.net.