COLUMBIA — Anthony Thorn and his wife found shelter as a lethal heat wave continued to hover over the Midwest.
The couple, who have been homeless for three years, recently arrived in Columbia from Atlanta, Ga., and found an oasis at the Salvation Army Harbor House as temperatures soared into dangerous territory. The Harbor House provides housing and food to homeless who clear a police check for safety and agree to a program that includes chores and job searching.
"I have no clue what I would do if I was out on the streets trying to find somewhere in the shade to keep cool," Thorn said. "With this heat, I don't know how we'd make it."
Thorn was a medic during Operation Desert Shield and has long-term mental disorders stemming from the conflict.
"I lived in my Jeep for six months," he said. "Eventually, I sold all my personal belongings for gas until theJeep was no good."
After that, Thorn and his wife lived in a tent until they went to Harbor House, he said.
The couple is not alone. The house, which has 61 permanent beds, has seen numbers rise from 55 percent to 80 percent occupancy over the last couple of weeks.
Thorn said he has seen full occupancy at night as "street people" come in to take advantage of "hot cots."
Hot cots are extra beds the shelter puts out when temperatures reach dangerous levels, said K. Kendall Mathews, Salvation Army regional manager.
The Salvation Army is trying to provide relief for people who are most at risk from the elements.
"We're distributing bottled water and offering opportunities for people to come in from the heat into our cooling center," Mathews said. "This heat is a disaster, particularly for the homeless. It's life threatening. They don’t have water, they can dehydrate. They can die and rot out in the heat."
There are still some beds available for people in need, and Mathews urges the community to help through providing water, towels and toiletries. People interested in donations can go to the Salvation Army's website.