As Chad Clark finishes up his morning meal at St. Vincent de Paul’s Phoenix Dining Room on the Human Services Campus — oatmeal and sausage on this day — he grabs a couple handfuls of water bottles to head back out for another day on the streets of downtown Phoenix. It’s only May, but already the temperatures are in the mid-80s at 8 a.m. as Chad collects his belongings.
The unforgiving summer heat can be life-threatening for those experiencing homelessness, and Chad understands the dangers of living on the streets during the summer in Phoenix all too well.
He was born in Seoul, South Korea, and at six months old was adopted by a family living in Los Angeles. Chad grew up in Orange County and moved to Phoenix in 2002. He held a stable job for a while but has since lost that job and lost his home, forcing him to live on the street.
He has seen his fair share of people suffer without a place to take refuge.
“It [water] is very important,” he said. “I’ve seen people die from lack of water out here.”
People will forget to drink enough water, they become disoriented, they just lay down to rest, and then they are found later after they pass away unfortunately, he said.
That story is all too familiar to Phoenix Dining Room Program Supervisor Tony Alvarado, who often sees firsthand the dangers of dehydration in the summer heat.
“There was a time where a guest walked in the gate at the Mesa Dining Room,” Tony said. “She was falling over, and we rushed to aid her. We gave her water bottles, a wet rag on her forehead, and we called 911 during that time. Then the ambulance came by and hooked her up to an IV. Yeah, the heat is pretty dangerous out there.”
Chad has been in Phoenix long enough that he knows to plan and make sure he has enough water to get through each day. For him that means a daily stop at SVdP’s Phoenix Dining Room.
He's not the only one that relies on heat relief services from SVdP to get through the summer. Every day, SVdP employees and volunteers hand out more than 4,000 bottles of water to those experiencing homelessness all over the Valley.
During summer, three of SVdP’s dining rooms – in Phoenix, Sunnyslope and Mesa – as well as its main campus Resource Center serve as heat relief cooling stations. In addition to water distribution, these stations provide air-conditioned refuge, shaded outdoor cooling with swamp coolers, and other life-saving heat relief supplies. They're also part of Maricopa County's official Heat Relief Regional Network.
“Lately I’ve been coming here [the Phoenix Dining Room] every day since I need the help,” Chad said. “I’m very grateful for you guys [SVdP] being here for us. There are a lot of places in the world where people don’t have access to a place like this.”
Chad is one of the guests who was able to spend the night inside the Phoenix Dining Room last night for the dining room’s summertime overnight shelter. He stays here when he can because he has had nights sleeping on the streets when he wakes up and all his belongs were stolen.
“I’ve had to start all over from scratch before,” he reminisces painfully.
With summer ramping up, these services are more necessary than ever, which is why SVdP staff like Tony are making sure they reach as many people as possible before its too late.
“Our work is very important,” Tony said. “We save lives every day.”
This year, St. Vincent de Paul is launching its 100 Days of Summer campaign from Memorial Day through Labor Day to remind everyone that summer is an especially important time of need for the most vulnerable in our community. Your donations will help provide everything from water and shelter for 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.