On a recent afternoon of triple-digit heat, Big Country was passed out on his back in Tranquility Park. He awoke with a roar.
"God! It's so hot!"
Country grabbed his suitcase and made for the air-conditioned library. He was stopped at the door. Suitcases, at least battered ones with sleeping mats on top in the tow of known homeless people, are not allowed inside.
Still groggy, Country argued with the security guard, who was kind but unyielding. Then he dragged his suitcase back outside and left it there.
"If they really want it," he said, "they can have it!"
He made a beeline past the still-protesting guard and into the coffee shop. He lasted about ten minutes, before the beleaguered guard, pleading for the sake of his job, convinced him to reclaim his luggage. And so Big Country was off to find some shade.
Shelters tend to fill up in extreme weather, and there is usually a lock-out during the day. This has led some social service organizations to search for ways to help the city's growing homeless population fight the heat. For the especially hot months of July and August, the My Fellow Man Alliance is borrowing shuttles from FASTTRACK Airport Parking to deliver the most basic of assistance: water and hats.
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Each Saturday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. (many outreach centers are closed on weekends) volunteers will drive to places with high concentrations of homeless, like Bute Park and the area around St. John's Bread of Life, to dole out the goods.
The initiative, called "Hydrating the Homeless," got started on Saturday with 780 bottles of water and a couple hundred hats, according to Darrell Johnson of MFMA.
"We thought we would do something to provide just a little relief," he says.
"The heat is a major problem. The heat in Houston is just as oppressive as the cold is in Northern cities," says Anthony Love, president and CEO of the Coalition of the Homeless of Houston/Harris County. "Other options are limited. There are cooling centers around the city, but as you can imagine, for some who look a certain way, they will have challenges getting into those centers. There are a few drop-in centers that are open during the day, but they have spotty hours and certain requirements that do not make it conducive for some folks who are homeless."