Spokane plans to better utilize cooling centers in the future

SPOKANE, Wash. — The heat-related deaths serve as a tragic reminder that improvements need to be made. While the city of Spokane had cooling centers available, most of the time they were empty and greatly under-utilized.

Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs is trying to adjust city ordinance to make cooling centers more effective. He explained, while the intentions of this heatwave were good, more could have easily been done.

“The challenge is that if you’re going to do a cooling center or a warming center, you need to understand the population you’re trying to serve, what’s going to motivate them, what’s going to grab their attention so that they will risk going out of their current location and traveling to that place,” Beggs said.

In the proposed ordinance, it would activate cooling centers at 95 degrees (instead of the current 100), and establish the cooling, warming and smoke centers well in-advance.

“It’s a combination of one, making it closer to their home and their neighborhood so they can get to it easily,” Beggs explained. “Secondly, making it more predictable so they’ll know they’ll be space for them when they get there and there’ll be enough hours to make it worth the danger to get there and back.”

Outreach for cooling centers in Spokane Valley was done a week in-advance, however even Spokane Valley Partners Food Bank, which had the most people, only had a few stop by.

Opportunity Presbyterian Church ended up cancelling their cooling center Friday, as a result of nobody utilizing the resource.

“We were open here on Sunday and we were open from 3-8 all week but we had nobody show up, and I think part of that is, is the communication and the transportation,” said Sherri Gangitano, Executive Director for the Spokane Valley Community Advocates.

While she applauded the Valley for their efforts, she hopes even they take this as a lesson learned – especially in transportation.

“If you’re in low-income or your homeless, you may have the minutes free phone and it’s the end of the month, so they may not have the minutes, to be able to stay on hold and then to make that arrangement,” Gangitano said.

The City Council of Spokane will be voting on the ordinance on July 12. If passed, it will go into effect immediately.

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