St. Louis biker takes a break. Photo credit: Erica Lewis on Unsplash

It’s getting hot in here: St. Louis currently battling heatwave, many fear surge in senior deaths

2 mins read

Following two weeks of historic temperatures in St. Louis, the city is experiencing a continuous heatwave, forcing many seniors out of their homes and to cooling centers in order to survive.

The beginning of June was “abnormally dry” for the Midwest, as reported by the National Weather Service. There was an estimated two-inch difference in rainfall across the board, but especially in St. Louis. A moderate drought was declared. Reportedly, June 16 saw the hottest day for the city in 2021 thus far. It is so hot that currently there is a heat advisory issued for St. Louis. Although severe thunderstorms are on the horizon, the city had a  heat index range of 100-107 degrees throughout the weekend.

“My apartment is 97 degrees right now,” begins medically retired and disabled veteran, Shawn Washington. A St. Louis resident, Washington has been temporarily displaced from his apartment following St. Louis’ high temperatures. “I’m at my aunt’s house until I can get to the library tomorrow.”

Despite the more than 80 cooling centers in the state, many residents are forced out of their homes during the hottest portions of the day, leaving them to remain so for most of the day. Many feel as though they should not have to leave the comfort of their homes if something can be done to help them now.

“My [usual] routine is go to the gym, do my yoga, and get my Starbucks and relax, but now I have to go to the library from 9 to 5; then I will go back to my aunt’s house,” explains Washington. 

SOS, please!

The City of St. Louis Department of Health participated in a St. Louis region-wide exercise for it’s Point of Dispensing (POD) emergency program. Planner Justen Hauser discusses the process of the P.O.D. with volunteers. Photo credit: K. Vanden Burg

Seniors are among the most vulnerable in the heat. This is even true for the healthiest among them.

According to Climate Central’s 2020 report, the Baby Boomer generation will be the hardest hit by climate change. “More than 80 percent of those dying from heat-related illnesses are over 60, researchers have found . . . older bodies don’t regulate internal heat as well, and poor physical fitness or being overweight makes these problems worse.”

The city’s senior population, 65 and over, accounts for about 14 percent of the total population, or approximately 404,000 people. About a third of these people live alone. St. Louis ranks 13th out of our peer regions for older adults living alone, according to the East-West Council of governments.

During this heat surge, it seems that seniors are on their own when it comes to solutions for their problems.

Washington goes on, “I contacted the [BBB], building inspectors, Consumer Affairs, they said it’s a long list [of issues] with this building. Don’t tell me you have a list and you’ve done nothing to rectify it. The manager does not want to speak with me, leaves me on hold while they sit in their air.” 

Since nothing was done for Washington channeling these avenues, he contacted the Mayor, UNICEF, Urban League, Veterans Affairs, and even the local Mason’s lodges. “I was sending out emails for about four hours,” said Washington. Yet again, his efforts did not work. “It is what it is.”

Washington’s sentiments mirror that of his peers as they often face these issues alone with possibly no immediate familial help. As temperatures continue to be high throughout the week, the most vulnerable residents still have little options to stay cool. On a larger scale, the high temperatures exemplifies the ever-increasing environmental issues that plague the U.S  and world at-large.

Yolanda Aguilera focuses on culture, policy, and Afro-Latinidad.

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