by: Ken Kolker

Posted: Jul 19, 2019 / 07:18 PM EDT / Updated: Jul 19, 2019 / 07:20 PM EDT

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Homeless men and women found any shade they could at Heartside Park Friday, lying on crunchy grass or sitting at picnic tables under small trees, or under the gazebo. But not James, who sat sweltering as the heat index neared 100 degrees.

“It’s killing me,” said the homeless Grand Haven native who said he now lives on the south side of Heartside Park.

A short time later, it did almost kill him.

James, 57, said he’d been banned from nearby Mel Trotter Ministries for drinking. But Friday’s oppressive heat led to a “code red” at shelters in Grand Rapids, meaning all were welcome to come in and wait out the heat, spend the night, drink cold water and eat dinner. 

“It’s open to anybody who needs relief from the heat,” Mel Trotter Vice President Syd Harvey said. “We call it code red, like in the winter when it’s really cold. We try to extend our hours and extend it to anybody. We do the same thing in the summer when it’s really hot.”  James said he would welcome the help. “They got to let me in there today,” he said. 

A short time later, James was no longer at his table in the sun as workers from Mel Trotter, including a nurse, reached Heartside Park, where they passed out bottles of cold water and ice packs. “You’re more than welcome to come on in for dinner time, too,” the Mel Trotter VP told a group.

Workers moved from shady spot to shady spot, but still didn’t spot James.

“It’s sweltering,” said JD, who sat at a picnic table with other homeless men. JD said he’s temporarily homeless and already staying at Mel Trotter. He said he will start a new job on Monday. “This is definitely a blessing: Cold water and an ice pack,” he said. “It’s the little things, I guess. We take air conditioning and creature comforts for granted.”

Finally, Mel Trotter workers found James slumped on a bench in the sun at the far end of the park.  “James, move into the shade,” LPN Kindi Novell told him. 

He smelled strongly of alcohol and was overheated — a dangerous mix. He didn’t respond. Eventually, James recovered enough to walk with help into the shade. He was taken by ambulance to the hospital. “It’s a deadly combination,” the nurse said. “You’re out here drinking, with the heat, the humidity and alcohol — not a good combination.” “If I was to play the lottery, I would have bet I’m finding something like this today,” she added.

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