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Fox News host Bill O'Reilly declared that during the recent heat wave that plagued cities across the United States, "if you wanted to cool off, you could find some place to cool off," and therefore the numerous homeless individuals who died in Phoenix and Las Vegas, two of the cities hardest hit by the soaring temperatures, were "mentally incapable of taking care of themselves." O'Reilly's comments came during a July 26 interview with Phoenix-based homeless advocate Terry Boyer and Las Vegas attorney Jim Vilt.
Earlier in the segment, Boyer had addressed the "tendency to portray the homeless as being all alcoholic or all severely mentally ill who are bums and really don't care." He went on to state that this portrayal "certainly is not the case." Boyer, director of the Day Resource Center in Phoenix, cited one of his clients as an example. "He was not intoxicated," Boyer said. "He had passed -- he was sitting out in the park and became heat exhausted. And he passed out and died."
A July 25 Associated Press article placed the number of heat-related fatalities in Phoenix at 24, most of them transients. In the days after O'Reilly's comments on July 26, the death toll rose even higher, reaching 29 in Phoenix and 40 nationwide [AP, 7/27/05].
From the July 26 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: Now some people tell me that a number of these homeless people become intoxicated, and then they get dehydrated from that. And they're immobile so they don't get out of the sun. And that's what kicks them. Is that true?
BOYER: For some, yes, but that is by no means the norm. I think there's been a tendency to portray the homeless as being all alcoholic or all severely mentally ill who are bums and really don't care. And that certainly is not the case.
I know for a fact that one of the people that died last weekend had been one of our clients. He was not intoxicated. He had passed -- he was sitting out in the park and became heat exhausted. And he passed out and died.
O'REILLY: All right, well, obviously no town wants squads of homeless hanging around. Phoenix at one time would -- I don't know whether you remember this or not, Mr. Boyer -- but Phoenix at one time very tough against the homeless, enforced the vagrancy laws and actually drove them to the city limits and dumped them out. Do you remember that?
BOYER: I do. I do remember that.
O'REILLY: But that's changed dramatically in your town, has it not?
BOYER: It most assuredly has. We have some great advocates in the police department, and even with the local governments who are trying to work together to address the homeless situation. It's not something that's not criminal to be homeless. So we're all trying to work together to come to a reasonable solution.
O'REILLY: Yes, but it seems to me in Phoenix and Las Vegas, if you wanted to cool off, you could find some place to cool off. So my bottom line is, I think that these people are, you know, mentally incapable of taking care of themselves.
Mr. Vilt, I'll give you the last word on that. That's my read on it. They cannot take care of themselves.
VILT: Well, again, there's not a lot of options for these folks. I mean, short of public libraries, there's not a whole lot of indoor places to take refuge.
We do have Catholic Charities, which opened up a 100-bed facility. And we have 5,000 to 8,000 people on the streets. Tough -- pretty difficult for 5,000 to 8,000 people to find air conditioning in this town.