“We need help.” Heat disproportionately affects Northwest Roanoke community

Published: Aug. 21, 2023 at 6:19 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Throughout this summer we’ve experienced periods of dangerous heat - it’s something our weather team has told you about. This week we are covering how the heat affects communities differently throughout our hometowns.

Charles Bratton is a frequent visitor to the non-profit Hope Center in Northwest Roanoke.

“Every day,” said Bratton.

On this day he escapes the 90-degree weather by finding refuge inside the Hope’s white building.

“I was looking for some help,” explained Bratton. “And the door was open, so I came in.”

It’s a safe place for people in the community who feel like they’re fighting an unforgiving sun.

“Day to day, you feel like really, is you going to make it or not, you know what I’m saying, outside. Am I going to make it down here or somewhere with shelter?” added Bratton. “So, it’s that hot!”

The center primarily runs programs for kids and collects clothing and food donations. But this summer people in the neighborhood have another need. So far, data show 2023 is the second-warmest year ever in Roanoke.

“People were coming consistently all day and they were stopping; either they were walking, or they were on their bike. Some people were in their cars would just pull up and say Hey do you have any water?” said Lewis.

But water isn’t the only thing people need. Not everyone has amenities like air-conditioned homes or offices to escape the oppressive heat.

“If we weren’t giving them water – they were coming in to sit, to cool off, or they were sitting on the side of the building in a shady spot,” explained Lewis. “So, we realized it’s like we found ourselves being a cool station.”

Lewis says the non-profit has spent hundreds of dollars on water and electricity this summer.

“Now our electric bill has tripled,” added Lewis. “So, it’s like okay we need help – help.”

Although bills are going up – the center will keep its doors open.

“We’re willing to do what it takes to keep the neighborhood safe – to keep the neighborhood, their needs met in whatever way we can,” said Lewis.

Bratton has found more than water and air conditioning at the center; He found inspiration.

“I got hope,” said Bratton. “It means a lot. It’s hard to know where I’d be now if I didn’t have the Hope Center. I’d be out there maybe passed out from the heat.”

An ongoing Virginia Tech Study found Northwest can be 12 to 15 degrees hotter than other parts of the Star City. This is known as the Urban Heat Island effect.

In upcoming WDBJ7 stories, we will talk more about this issue- the historical background and why it happens.