How a ‘code red’ saved a homeless man in GR

Grand Rapids

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.

Cross hanging from ceiling inside shelter
A July 19, 2019 photo shows the inside of Mel Trotter Ministries in Grand Rapids.

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.

A July 19, 2019 photo shows the sign outside Mel Trotter Ministries in Grand Rapids.

“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.”

Sweat drips from the nose of James, who was taken to a hospital after suffering from the effects of the extreme heat in Grand Rapids. (July 19, 2019)

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.

Man hands water to person sitting alongside building
The vice president of Mel Trotter Ministries hands out water to homeless people during an extremely hot day. (July 19, 2019)

“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.

Man sitting in sweat soaked shirt with ice packs on neck
JD tries to cool down with the help of ice packs handed out in Heartside Park as part of the “code red” response by Grand Rapids shelters. (July 19, 2019)

JD said he’s temporarily homeless and already staying at Mel Trotter. He said he will start a new job on Monday.

Woman talking to man seated on bench
A nurse and shelter workers try to talk to an unresponsive James, who was seated in the sun. (July 19, 2019)

“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.

A nurse and crews talk with James and evaluate his condition. (July 19, 2019)

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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