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More and more people are finding themselves living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region. In some places, rent has doubled. The cost of everyday goods — like gas and groceries — keeps creeping up. All the while, wages lag behind and the affordable housing crisis looms. Amid cost-of-living increases, WUSF is focused on documenting how people are making ends meet.

How Tampa Bay area's leaders are advising people without housing during a dangerous heat wave

 A green drawstring backpack lays on a wood table, ready to be packed with single-use sunscreen packets, bug spray, two water bottles and a sweat-wicking towel.
Courtesy of Hillborough County Homeless and Community Services
A typical "cooling kit" distributed by Hillsborough County to unsheltered residents lays on the table, ready to be packed with sunscreen, bug spray, water bottles and a sweat-wicking cloth. The county has distributed about 100 bags so far this summer.

As temperatures soar, officials are urging residents to stay indoors. But for those without housing, that can be a challenge.

Thursday marked the second day of heat advisories for the greater Tampa Bay region, according to the National Weather Service.

As temperatures soar, officials are urging residents to stay indoors. But for those without housing, that can be a challenge.

Felicia Crosby-Rucker is director of Hillsborough County's homeless and community services department. She said the county is working with community partners to address the ways that people without housing are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of extreme heat.

“One, not being able to find a place to get adequate or clean water for them to drink, to hydrate,” she said. Then there’s the added challenge of accessing places with air-conditioning to cool off.

On Tuesday, a county press release directed residents to seek refuge at public libraries, parks and shopping malls.

Crosby-Rucker said the county is also working to distribute “cooling kits,” with items like bottled water, sunscreen and towels to people living without housing. The program is a coordinated effort between the county and community organizations like St. Vincent de Paul and Metropolitan Ministries BrigAIDe.

She said outreach teams work to distribute the cooling kits, in addition to housing assistance information and resources. So far this summer, the county has distributed about 100 kits, with plans to purchase and assemble up to 500 more. Last year, the county distributed about 400 kits in total, Crosby-Rucker said.

In Pinellas County, there was no specific guidance issued for people living without housing or shelter during the heat advisory.

“We, along with our partners at the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, are urging residents to take necessary precautions and follow these safety measures during the current heat advisory to minimize the risk of heat-related illnesses and emergencies,” according to a county spokesperson.

In Manatee County, spokesperson Bill Logan said that community partners, Salvation Army and Turning Points, have opened air-conditioned spaces for those seeking temporary refuge from the heat.

Still, he said, the emergency response to extreme heat in Florida is typically not on par with that of a cold weather event.

Though, some local leaders in the greater Tampa Bay region foresee that changing.

As climate experts warn that more intense heat waves could become the norm, Crosby-Rucker says Hillsborough County is starting to consider better ways to protect and provide for residents.

Gabriella Paul covers the stories of people living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region for WUSF. She's also a Report for America corps member. Here’s how you can share your story with her.

I tell stories about living paycheck to paycheck for public radio at WUSF News. I’m also a corps member of Report For America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.