Heat Relief For Knoxville's Homeless

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Knoxville (WVLT) - For some in East Tennessee, surviving in the heat is something that must be done 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. For the homeless, there's just no respite, and that's why on a hot day like today, a white flag is a welcome relief.

Volunteer TV's Jim Freeman explains.

The white flag is often times used when it's just too bitter cold for the homeless to survive outside, but the summer heat can be just as deadly.

The white flag is out, and that means it's time to surrender to the elements and come inside.

"So when the temperature gets above 89 degrees, we put out the white flag as a way to say to our neighbors to come inside and get out of the heat," said Rev. Bruce Spangler from the Volunteer Ministry Center on South Gay Street.

Because it's an unhealthy strain on the homeless.

"Well, the bad thing about it. I have high blood pressure, and it's not good for me. I get out of breath when I'm walking," said Nancy West, who is homeless.

"The humidity and the heat, I mean, it's just hard on a person," said James Presley, who is homeless.

And it's also a costly strain on those who work to keep the homeless safe from the heat and humidity.

"Well, there is an extreme demand on our resources anywhere from the cost of the air-conditioning, but also we provide bottled water and those kinds of things," Spangler said.

Reverend Spangler says expenses have spiked about 30 percent during the latest spike in temperatures. Aside from the strain that it puts on water supply, food, and utilities, the clinic is also a place that sees strain on extra hot days.

"Although this place stays very busy, but we probably see more than that because so many become dehydrated in this kind of weather," family nurse practitioner Nan Sprouse said.

The heat is especially unkind to the homeless.

"We see a lot of headaches. They're weak. They're tired. They're thirsty. They generally don't feel well," Sprouse said.

Despite the strain on the ministry budgets, the mission of caring continues.

"I just want to let people know that knows me," West said. "That I am OK."

Angel Ministries says they have gone from handing out three to four hundred bottles of water a week to that many a day.

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