Each evening, volunteers serve a hot meal to anyone in need at Border Friendship Park in Calexico, California. After Imperial County closed public bathrooms, organizers fought to have hand-washing stations installed so the people they feed can wash up. (Anna Maria Barry-Jester/KHN)

CALEXICO, Calif. — The message wasn’t lost on Daniel Gonzalez.

Early in the pandemic, one of the first things Imperial County did to ward off the virus was close the public bathrooms and, later, public cooling centers. In this sprawling Southern California desert, where summer brings blistering triple-digit heat, that lack of access could amount to a death sentence for people without shelter.

People like Gonzalez, homeless the past two years, were simply not a priority.

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