PROVIDENCE — With weekend temperatures approaching 100 degrees, Raul Vega would normally have had a difficult time staying cool.
“This is so helpful that they did this. It’s a great idea,” said Vega, 59, who is homeless and has been staying for the last three months at Emmanuel House, the overflow homeless shelter on Public Street that is operated by the Diocese of Providence.
On the weekend of July 20-21, the diocese kept Emmanuel House open around the clock as a 24-hour cooling center for its guests. The National Weather Service had issued an excessive heat warning as a heat wave brought daily temperatures of more than 95 degrees.
“When the weather becomes this oppressive, our guests can become over heated very quickly and risk very serious health consequences due to the stress the heat may have on them,” Dotty Perrault, the Emmanuel House site manager, said in a prepared statement.
Local parishes, volunteers and non-profit organizations donated extra supplies of food, water and clothes that weekend, said Mike Marzullo, the assistant director of Emmanuel House.
“We have 40 cases of water, food, snacks, watermelon, pastries,” Marzullo said as he examined a pile of donations in a side office.
Marzullo said the weekend cooling center schedule, which began at 7 p.m. on July 19, kept most of the 60 guests indoors, especially with the donated portable air conditioners that were kept on in the sleeping areas.
“It’s a lot better than not having any air conditioning at all,” Marzullo said.
Perrault said Sunday that the shelter provided respite for 32 guests on Saturday and 39 on Sunday.
She noted her tremendous appreciation for the generosity of Ann Pari, and the And You Fed Me and Breadlines ministries that Pari volunteers with each week in donating the portable air conditioners that are bringing relief to dozens with nowhere else to keep cool on this dangerously hot weekend.
Thanks to an anonymous donor, the shelter’s guests and staff enjoyed cheeseburgers on the grill on Sunday afternoon.
In 2010, the Diocese of Providence opened Emmanuel House after renovating a shuttered day care center on the city’s South Side. The shelter opened three days before Christmas in 2010. Since then, there has been rarely a night when the shelter has not been at or above capacity.
Vega, who has been staying at Emmanuel House for the last three months, and other guests normally would have to leave during the day and return in the early evening. He said the decision to keep the center open was “super helpful.”
“It’s tough to stay cool in this heat,” said Vega, who still felt the need to go outside for a little bit despite the heat. He brought along a large bottle of water, a towel and found a shady spot under a tree to relax.
“You do what you can do,” Vega said.
Robert Santiago, 54, who has been staying at Emmanuel House for the last three years, said he did not have many options to “beat the heat” other than to stay for a few hours during the day at a friend’s apartment or at the mall.
“There are not many places you can go downtown,” said Santiago, who saw the cooling center weekend as a “nice two-day break” from the usual routine.
“This was a blessing,” he said. “Like a little mini-vacation. I love it. But come Monday, we’ll be hitting the streets again.”
Herbert Edwards, an Emmanuel House guest, watched television in an air-conditioned backroom just before dinner time on Sunday. Even with sunset approaching, the outdoor temperatures were still in the high 80s.
“It’s too hot to be outside,” Edwards said. “It’d be a problem to have to be out there.”
Marzullo said most of the guests only went out for medical appointments and for religious services on Sunday morning. Most of the time, the men stayed indoors, watching television or relaxing on their bunks.
“They wanted to be inside,” Marzullo said, “With the air-conditioning. I can’t blame them.”
Executive Editor Rick Snizek contributed to this report.