PHOENIX — Heat-related deaths have been escalating in the Valley over the last couple of years and local governments are attempting to reverse the troubling trend by offering more resources to keep residents out of the sun.
The city of Phoenix has drafted a comprehensive plan it hopes to implement soon before temperatures start to rise again this summer.
Public health data shows 2021 had a record-high number of heat-related deaths in Maricopa County and Phoenix accounted for many of the fatalities.
"Most years, Phoenix has had the highest per capita rate of heat-associated deaths in the county -- a standing we'd like to change," said David Hondula, the city's new director of heat mitigation.
Hondula recently outlined to the Phoenix City Council a new response plan the city's concocted for lowering its fatality rate during the summer season.
Elements of the plan include distributing reusable water bottles, providing portable water tanks at community events, adding shade structures at transit stops, and handing out umbrellas at public events.
One of the most notable elements of the plan involves investing $2 million in federal funds for creating a new heat-relief shelter that can accommodate up to 200 people near Washington and 28th streets.
"The shelter will adopt an integrated service model in which those who opt in to use the shelter agree to certain program terms including a nightly curfew and code of conduct," city records state.
Phoenix is additionally exploring a pilot program with Google this summer that would create a publicly-available dashboard showing indicators of heat-health community impact and needed community resources based on Google search data.
The city's leaders are hopeful the new mitigation plan will be constructive at a time when the Valley is grappling with a housing crisis. A county-wide survey done earlier this year showed homelessness rates had jumped 35% during the pandemic.
At least 64% of Phoenix's heat deaths in 2020 involved individuals who were experiencing homelessness, city data shows.
More information on the response plan can be found on the city's website.
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