The sun feels like it bears down harder on some.
“It’s stifling,” said Maurice Lavon Jones, 51, a resident of affordable housing building Pacific Apartments in Pioneer Square operated by Plymouth Housing.
Much of the low-income and public housing in Seattle is older, made of concrete or brick, and lacks air conditioning.
After four days of temperatures reaching 90-plus degrees, some people who live in these buildings and outdoors are feeling the impact. They have fewer means to escape the effects of extreme heat and are more likely to have weakened immune systems.
Last year, during a rare heat dome that reached 100-degree temperatures, at least five homeless people in Washington died from heat-related illness and 275 people were hospitalized in King County on a single day. This week, while there have been only 42 hospitalizations due to heat from Tuesday to Thursday, especially vulnerable people in Seattle are again struggling to cope with a record-breaking heat wave.
“There is no ventilation at all. Period,” Jones said of his 106-year-old building. “One of the oldest buildings in Seattle. Think how thick that brick is and how hot it gets.”
Jones spends a lot of his time at the Bell Tower downtown, taking care of a woman in a wheelchair whom he met when they were both homeless.
He says the Bell Tower, which is owned and managed by the Seattle Housing Authority, is no better than his own building. The concrete traps heat and lacks any air conditioning. His friend doesn’t complain, but he said he knows she is suffering.
He tries to help by placing wet towels he cooled in the refrigerator on her waist, feet, neck and face.
“She’s not able to get up and get down to be able to do that for herself, and she’s stuck in that heat,” Jones said.
Jones can cope with uncomfortable conditions, he said, after 30 years on Seattle’s streets beginning when he was 12. He’s thankful for the housing organizations that have helped him be able to live inside.
“The good that they provide is first and foremost,” Jones said. “But please and thank you, send ice down here. Send water. Send some relief, some help if you can.”
The King County Regional Homelessness Authority opened several cooling sites around the city Tuesday and is keeping some cooling tents around Seattle open on Saturday as the heat wave has stretched beyond its original forecast.
The Seattle Housing Authority directed its residents to those sites, but many in public housing are older or have disabilities that make it hard to travel, especially when feeling lethargic and heavy from being baked indoors.
The Seattle Housing Authority says it can’t afford to purchase air conditioners for all of the almost 500 units of housing it owns and operates in the city. Spokesperson Kerry Coughlin says the authority is trying to open cooling areas in the community rooms at buildings where they can. But there is no cooling area at the Bell Tower because a man set fire to the building in March, damaging the community room.
The authority said it makes welfare calls on a list of residents it considers vulnerable and sometimes has cold water on hand.
Coughlin says that the housing authority will also help residents install an air conditioner if they are approved, but Candace Behuniak, who lives on the ninth floor of the building, said she and other residents can’t afford one.
Her west-facing apartment receives direct sun all afternoon. Behuniak has a box fan she got from another resident, but that’s reserved for her long-haired cat.
“It’s all about the cat,” Behuniak said. “I just hang in there.”
On Thursday, after spending the day out of her building to escape the heat, she stepped out of the elevator and let out a “whoa.”
“It was all just stagnant, and obviously we’re all just cooking up there,” Behuniak said.
She has been freezing tuna in ice cube trays this week to lower her cat’s temperature from the inside, and giving it cold baths, which she says it does not like. As for herself, Behuniak said the heat has been slowing down her production as a writer and artist.
“It’s just hard on your brain to keep pushing through when it’s hot,” Behuniak said.
Some people who live outside are contending with the heat while resettling after a forced move.
Terry Thurmond, who turned 57 a few weeks ago, was at Third Avenue South and South Holgate Street until Tuesday, when the city removed that encampment as the heat wave began. He moved with several other people a few blocks over to Sixth Avenue South.
Since then, he has just been trying to stay out of the heat.
“You pretty much don’t move around a lot or you’re going to dehydrate yourself or have a heatstroke,” Thurmond said.
Thurmond, like a few others at the Sodo encampment, had been ready to move into a tiny home offered to him weeks before. But about a week before the clearing, he was told that space was gone. He could’ve gone instead to congregate shelter, where he would share space with dozens or more people in large rooms, but he doesn’t want to go because he always gets sick when he goes there.
Travis Robinson, an outreach worker in Sodo for homeless services nonprofit REACH, said a shooting in an Aurora encampment meant open tiny homes were diverted to people living there, and away from people in the Sodo encampment who had been promised them.
“It would have been nice to pause (the encampment removal) until we did have some more resources and wait out the heat,” Robinson said.
The City of Seattle removed three encampments during the heatwave saying it had scheduled them for weeks and was trying to bring people inside from the heat.
Robinson and another REACH outreach worker handed out cold bottles of water and Gatorade on Friday to Thurmond and the other people who had moved a few blocks over.
Thurmond got up early that day to clean up the area around his tent, but at 1 p.m. he was preparing to sleep to shut down his body during the hottest parts of the day.
But that’s hard, he said, when his canvas tent traps heat and is about 10 degrees hotter inside than the air outside.