As yet another heat wave begins in Boston this week, people who work with homeless individuals are worried about the dangers posed by excessive heat.

“For people who stay out, that don't come in [to shelters], it obviously can be really serious,” said Lyndia Downie, president and executive director of Pine Street Inn. She added that many of the people her organization supports are older and have pre-existing conditions. “We worry a lot about the heat. Dehydration mostly, but heat stroke as well. We did take quite a few people to the emergency room last week.”

Duing an appearance on Boston Public Radio, Downie said the risks are increasing each year as the threat of climate change grows and heat waves become more common — often stretching on for days.

“The longer [a heat wave] goes on, the more people I think are going to end up in the E.R.,” Downie said. “We're [giving] out water. Our vans are out during the day. We're trying to get people to come in to the shelter, but not everybody wants to come in.”

Downie said another problem is that some people cannot get to shelters on their own. She urged people without shelter to make use of the city’s cooling centers, located at community centers across the city. Mayor Michelle Wu declared a heat emergency from Thursday to Sunday, opening centers from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Here’s what else Downie had to say about the state of homelessness in Boston:

  • The city has recently taken some legal wins in the push to rebuild the Long Island bridge, a step toward building addiction recovery programs on the island. “There's enormous potential,” Downie said about bringing services back to Long Island. “But it's going to take time no matter what you do out there, and it's not going to be a 'today' solution. I think we have to be realistic about that.”
  • The area around Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard remains busy, but Downie says low-barrier housing at places like the nearby Roundhouse Hotel has helped, and she wants it to stay. “I think the neighborhood's looking for an end date on the Roundhouse, but there is not an alternative right now, and I think giving up that site would just make everything worse,” she said.
  • The growth of supportive housing, which provides low-barrier, affordable housing along with support services, is “part of the long game,” Downie said. Pine Street Inn has 240 units in development and is working on even more. Still, they have faced pushback from local communities. “We were taken to court over not having enough parking on the site, which was somewhat ironic because homeless people typically do not have cars. … Sometimes that is a a code for ‘I don't want homeless people in the neighborhood.’”
  • Providing mental health support remains a challenge. “I think the field has lost a lot of [workers], and so I think that has made it harder for everybody to get mental health care,” Downie said. “The demand has grown exponentially, but the workforce has not… it's a crisis, no doubt.”