Australian scientists help the homeless beat heatwaves with mobile cooling hubs

By Thomson Reuters Feb 29, 2024 | 2:22 AM

By Cordelia Hsu

SYDNEY (Reuters) – As Australia’s scorching summer heat intensifies, a team of researchers has launched an initiative to protect one of the country’s most vulnerable demographics: the homeless.

Australia’s first mobile cooling hubs are set up on hot days in city parks close to where homeless communities gather and provide food, fans, cold water and a space to chat.

Temperatures soared as high as 39 degrees Celsius (102.2°F) in parts of Sydney on Thursday.

But in the shade of white tents, locals sat on rows of seats facing large industrial fans as they nibbled snacks and chatted. Some days food trucks will set up nearby.

For those like Alan Patrick Mcleod, who has been homeless for over a year, the hubs are a godsend.

“Feels kinda like I’m just at the beach more or less… I’m relaxed and all of a sudden we’re water fighting. It’s a beautiful place, very beautiful.”

Social housing resident Adam Abbi had nowhere to go while his home was being repaired and promised alternative accommodation fell through, so he came down to the hub with his dog.

“I’m so happy and grateful I can’t tell you. I don’t mind being hot…you just sit there and sweat for no reason, but she needs, she’s 17, she needs to be comfortable and cool,” Abbi said referring to his dog.

Heatwaves kill more people than any other natural-disaster but people are rarely aware of how deadly hot days can be, according to Timothy English of the University of Sydney and the project’s lead researcher.

“I mean for an earthquake, for floods and things… it’s very vivid,” he told Reuters. But I mean for heat … it doesn’t have that shock.”

The project is a collaboration between the University of Sydney, St Vincents Hospital Sydney, University of Technology Sydney, Queensland University of Technology, and the City of Sydney.

(Writing by Lewis Jackson; Editing by Michael Perry)