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As temperatures rise, so do heat safety concerns for Phoenix's growing homeless population

Data from Maricopa County shows 338 heat deaths in 2021. Of that number, 125 deaths were considered to be people experiencing homelessness.

PHOENIX — Stacey Champion is trying to prove a point.

She and other fellow advocates took to the Phoenix sidewalk Thursday afternoon with temperature guns to try and highlight the difference between pavement and shaded areas.

"We as a society and as a city, county, state tend to be incredibly reactive versus proactive," she said. "We know it’s going to be scorching hot every single year."

RELATED: Record-breaking temps spell dire situation for Valley's homeless population

She's calling on local governments to do more to provide access to cool spaces, especially for the homeless population. Her concern is that heat-related deaths in Phoenix will continue rising after an already record-breaking year in 2021.

Data from Maricopa County shows 338 heat deaths in 2021. Of that number, 125 deaths were considered to be people experiencing homelessness.

So far this year Maricopa County data shows one heat death and at least 29 under investigation and this is just the start of summer.

"These are preventable deaths," Champion said.

She planned her press conference Thursday in front of the gated-off Carnegie Library in Phoenix, just a block away from the city's largest homeless encampment. She wants to see spaces like that open up to increase access to shade and greenspace. 

The City of Phoenix said it's taking steps to try and combat heat deaths, especially among the unsheltered population.

"We know that heat-related death is higher in that population," said David Hondula. "Two to three hundred times higher."

Hondula helms the city's new Office of Heat Response and Mitigation.  

The city has been working with partners to add more cooling shelters and now caseworkers help with outreach to better connect people to resources.

Hondula said a lot of his efforts have been focused on outreach. He said some people, especially those new to homelessness, aren't aware of what resources are currently out there.

"We’ve got a lot of work to do to get the word out and we think boots on the ground is a really important way to do that," Hondula said.

He also added that the city is offering free rides to cooling stations, thanks to a grant from APS. The new service is available to anyone and residents can get a free ride to a cooling station by calling 211.

The city is also working to identify more properties that can be turned into shade or shelter, a move Champion thinks will be necessary to reduce heat-related deaths.

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