PHOENIX — As the Valley prepares for temperatures in the 90’s this weekend, the number of people experiencing homelessness is up 36% over the last two years.
Data provided by Maricopa County shows more than 5,000 people are unsheltered. That has advocates of vulnerable Arizonans, especially worried.
“I am terrified we are going to crush our heat death and heat illness this summer,” said Stacey Champion, an environmental consultant and activist who tracks heat deaths in the Valley.
An average of 3,000 Arizonans visit emergency rooms each year because of heat-related illnesses and Maricopa County continues to set new records each year for heat-related deaths.
Low-income Arizonans with homes are also at risk.
“We know by looking at the data that those folks that die indoors are often trying to save money by turning their AC off,” Champion said.
According to the City of Phoenix, the city is dedicating $50 million this year to provide shelters, outreach and mental health services for the influx of unsheltered individuals living on Valley streets.
The city added funding for 275 new shelter beds. Last year the Phoenix City Council created the first-ever Office of Heat Response and Mitigation. It is meant, in part, to reduce heat-related deaths.
But many plans are still in the works. And the hot temperatures won’t wait.
“From society’s standpoint, we have to get to the point where we view the danger of heat, equally to the danger we view as extreme cold (in cold-weather states),” Champion said. “We know heat kills hundreds of people every year.”
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