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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

A heat advisory in NYC has many seeking AC where they can

A heat wave hits New York, and seniors try to stay cool.

A heat wave hits New York, and seniors

A heat wave hits New York, and seniors try to stay cool. Photo Credit: Mark Chiusano

Lunch was crowded this week at the senior center in the basement of Holy Cross Church, and you might credit the AC.

Walking down the steps to the Project FIND location on 42nd Street in Manhattan, the lightness of the air hits you maybe even more than the temperature. It’s an escape from the muggy, overbearing heat.

The air conditioning is so good that some of the seniors actually asked staffers to turn down the blast, says Augustine Brown, who directs the center.

“We don’t want them to get sick.”

Song of summer

Pleasant cool air is a commodity wherever you can get it this week, with a National Weather Service heat advisory extending into Wednesday. It’s the second heat wave in the city this summer, according to Jonathan Jenkins, an assistant commissioner for logistics for NYC Emergency Management. The city activated its “heat emergency plan” given the high heat index, a measure of heat and humidity. Temperatures hit 93 on Tuesday, with only slightly lower highs expected Wednesday.

Those levels aren’t the fatal ones being seen around the world this summer, including in parts of Europe where thermometers climbed above 100 (that’s Fahrenheit).

But the current heat wave is serious in NYC, particularly to “vulnerable populations” like seniors, children, and people with pre-existing conditions, says Jenkins.

To combat the heat, the city’s emergency plan includes checking on homeless New Yorkers. The FDNY allows people to sign out a spray cap to turn a hydrant into a sprinkler. And around 500 facilities are activated as “cooling centers” where New Yorkers can go during the hottest parts of the day.

The centers are in places like libraries or NYCHA buildings that are already known to residents, says Jenkins. The senior center at the church on 42nd Street is one such place.

In hot pursuit of AC

With the AC, the temperature there was a comfortable 65 degrees on Tuesday afternoon. Brown, the center director, said there had been a high of 190 people for lunch on Monday during the heat of the day. Attendance was 130 on Tuesday. Many trickled out afterward, but the center often has regulars and people looking to pass their time out of the elements. A line of computers against the street-side wall was in high demand. Some seniors sat and watched sports on a big flat-screen TV. Others sat at the lunch tables scattered around the room.

One group played their regular game of knock rummy, flicking cards across a plastic tablecloth. Card player John Andrew, 63, said he comes all the way from Staten Island partially for the company but especially when it’s hot. He has AC at home, it’s true, “but this is better because it’s free.”

Closer to the kitchen, Juan Rosario sat with the company of a large duffel bag. Rosario, 71, sleeps nights next door at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. It’s cool enough in there but he isn’t allowed to stay indefinitely, even though he purchases a cheap $10 bus ticket every day for an excuse to fall asleep in an upright chair.

He says he has breathing issues and comes to the church basement during the day to cool down, one of many New Yorkers for whom rising temperatures is a real problem.

“The heat out there, it’s murder for me.”

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