John Stevenson turns on the television at the West Dallas Multipurpose Center. He sits on the sofa, grateful to have a place to get out of the heat. He typically spends most of his day outside and sleeps in his car at night. Having shelter from the sun means everything.
“You get free lunch. You get free snacks. And, you don’t gotta be in that 100 degree weather,” Stevenson says.
The City of Dallas has been working with Reliant Energy for 14 years to help those who may not have access to air conditioning during the summer months. The “Beat the Heat” initiative includes 15 centers in North Texas. In Dallas, the two locations are the West Dallas Multipurpose Center and the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center.
“We really want to focus on keeping people safe — especially our seniors and the vulnerable neighbors who may be worried about their electricity use or maybe their AC isn’t working properly. There could be a number of reasons,” says Leanne Schneider, director of community relations at Reliant Energy. “We don’t want people to just be in their hot home. We want them to have a safe place to go.”
Schenider says they see 75 to 100 people daily between the two facilities.
Last summer was the second-hottest on record in Texas. The Texas Department of State Health Services recorded 279 heat-related deaths. Of those, almost half were Texans experiencing homelessness and people without air conditioning.
Jason Green often spends his summer afternoons at the MLK Community Center.
“The small things are important,” he says. “You need something to snack on? They got snacks. You can get some cold water. Do you need some clothes? They got a clothes center over there.”
Green says he appreciates the fact that he can sit in a place where he feels comfortable. “I like the atmosphere. It’s cool, a safe space, and I can charge all of my devices.”
When they first started the program, Schneider says they quickly realized that many people couldn’t access the centers because of transportation issues. So, they started giving away cooling devices like fans, evaporative coolers and portable ACs.
Scheider says they have given away more than a thousand cooling devices across Texas. In Dallas, they donated 150 fans divided between the two centers. But, Schenider says the demand has been so high, they ran out.
“We do see an increasing demand for these cooling centers and these cooling devices,” says Schneider. “But, I don’t know if there’s a direct correlation to people without AC or not.”
Schneider says Reliant’s long term goal is to continue to provide resources in hopes of keeping up with demands, but she says what’s equally important is to educate the community on how to conserve energy during these extreme weather conditions.
- Adjusting your thermostat four degrees higher than normal when no one is home for more than four hours
- Use ceiling fans to cool the room
- Avoid using high-usage appliances like dishwashers, washers, dryers and ovens between 2 and 6 p.m.
- Check your AC units semi-annually to prevent unnoticed defects
- Unplug electronics when not in use to preserve energy
- Take advantage of natural lighting during the day and consider other lighting options such as LED lighting instead of incandescent bulbs
The City of Dallas has other cooling centers available. Residents with limited access to air conditioning can visit any public facility, which includes recreational centers and libraries.
Additionally, the City of Dallas is inviting anyone who needs to cool down to sit at indoor DART stations with air conditioning while the extreme heat continues. There are 18 participating DART stations throughout Dallas. Visit the DART website for the full list.
The West Dallas Multipurpose Center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The MLK Community Center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.