Cooling Centers Offer Relief From the Heat for Some New Yorkers

When Eileen Bran left her non-air conditioned house in Nassau County Wednesday morning, she didn't think it would take three buses to get to one of New York City's 380 cooling centers.

"Oh, thank God!" gasped Bran, an asthmatic 55-year-old, as she entered the doors of the Campos Community Center in the East Village.

Bran said she was looking for a New York-designated cooling center near her house but didn't know where to go. So she began her trek to Manhattan to find one.

Click here to check out's heat wave photo essay.

Officials in Chicago and other cities and towns throughout states like Michigan, Illinois and California have opened cooling centers to residents to protect them against the often-dangerous temperatures.

As the heat index peaked at 115 degrees on Wednesday — the second straight day of triple-digit temperatures — visited some centers around the Big Apple.

Located on the Lower East Side, the Campos Community Center usually caters to young children and teens, but due to the triple-digit temperatures, the city designated it as one of the facilities open to anyone who needs to quench their thirst or get out of the sun.

"During the heat emergency, we legally have to be open from 9 a.m. to midnight," said Joanna Ramos, a community service aid at Campos. "Yesterday we had 18 people sign in. We had 27 on [July] 31."

Campos and similar cooling centers have air-conditioned rooms and free water for the public. With an open gym, music, and classrooms available, Campos is normally a popular sanctuary for local youth — especially now, since many are trying to conserve power at home.

"Last night I had a blackout until 8 p.m. Today, I unplugged everything, the only thing on is the AC," said Ramos, who lives near the center.

But other cooling centers, like the Project Find Senior Woodstock Center in Midtown, offer passers-by an almost too warm welcome.

As a result of a brownout Tuesday, and with power demands reaching their highest levels ever in New York, Woodstock has been forced to curtail its electricity use.

"We're cutting back on air-conditioning," said Denise Jones, director of the Woodstock Center, normally for senior citizens. "Last weekend I had to call the ambulance for two people."

"Senior citizens need a cool atmosphere," said one patron, who only gave the name John Q and said he was hospitalized for heat exhaustion. "Here, they're shutting down the air conditioners in fear of a blackout."

New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg on Wednesday urged everyone, particularly in residential areas, to crank down their air conditioners as much as possible — at least to 78 degrees — to avoid any more power outages.

"As miserable as it will be, I do know we can get through this together," he said during a press conference. "It is critical that we all do what we can to conserve energy and avoid the interruption of electricity to the city … 78 degrees is a lot better than what the temperature would be if we lost electricity."

Senior citizens are at a particularly high risk during heat spikes.

"Hundreds of people have already tragically passed away due to the heat wave in other parts of the country, and I urge New Yorkers — especially seniors — to take the danger of high temperatures and humidity seriously," Bloomberg said.

At another frequented Midtown cooling center, seniors escaped the haze and humidity in the basement of a church.

The Encore Luncheon Club, also located in Midtown, offers water, food and entertainment to people (many of whom were seniors) trying to avoid the heat. Entertainment includes opera singers, television, movies and a library. The center recently added two hours to its regular workday schedule to help seniors cope with the heat.

"A man came in yesterday afternoon, he was so red, so I gave him water and sat him down," said Nieves Taveras, assistant director of Encore. "If anyone wants to stay, they are welcome."

Amelia Tirado, 70, a regular at Encore, has showed up an hour earlier than usual in recent days to beat the heat.

"This is the best place in the area," said Tirado, who usually stays for lunch to meet friends. "The people who work here are the nicest."

Bloomberg on Sunday issued an executive order in anticipation of the sweltering heat cooking New Yorkers over the past few days. That order opened and extended hours of cooling centers throughout the city, all of which are open to anyone who needs relief.

"I'm glad New York City offers these cooling centers, and I'm really thankful to the mayor for providing facilities for people like me," said Bran, refreshed by a glass of water and cooled in an air conditioned room.

Click here to find a New York cooling center near you.