Phoenix heat wave hitting the homeless especially hard | VailDaily.com
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Phoenix heat wave hitting the homeless especially hard

PHOENIX – Searing heat blasts through this desert city every summer, leaving its thousands of homeless residents searching for shelter from the torrid temps.In most years, the heat is survivable. But after a run of 110-plus-degree days this month, police say 14 homeless people apparently have died of too much sun and not enough water. Seven nonhomeless residents have died as well.”Day after day after day, no break in it. It just saps all your energy,” said Jerry Rountree, a 69-year-old transient who had a blue jug filled with water and ice hanging from his wheelchair at a Phoenix shelter.The homeless death toll from the heat wave is the worst in years in Phoenix. Will Humble, bureau chief for disease control at the Arizona Department of Health Services, said the last time he could recall a cluster of heat deaths among the city’s homeless was in 1990, when seven people died during a week in which the mercury climbed to an all-time Phoenix high of 122 degrees.While the temperature has not reached that high this year, the last couple of weeks have been particularly scorching. In the last two weeks, it has hit at least 110 degrees all but three days. On Sunday, it reached a record 116.”With the homeless folks, when it’s a 105 every day, they are able to get by,” Humble said. “It’s these last 10 degrees and these number of days in a row, I think, that push them over the edge.”Charities and government agencies have stepped up their efforts to accommodate the homeless during the heat wave, and donations of water have been pouring in.But the heat has also drawn attention to the homeless problem facing Phoenix.An estimated 8,000 homeless people are believed to live in Maricopa County, where Phoenix and its suburbs sit, but only 1,600 shelter beds are available citywide, said Bill Manson, development coordinator for Central Arizona Shelter Services, the state’s largest homeless aid agency.Heat waves like the one gripping Phoenix can actually be more lethal for the homeless than cold snaps in northern cities, said Michael Stoops, acting executive director of the Washington D.C.-based National Coalition for the Homeless.Warmer cities generally have fewer resources for the homeless, and the vacation-friendly images of balmy California or sun-soaked Florida mean that people often think it’s unnecessary to have as much shelter available, Stoops said.The Phoenix shelter run by Central Arizona Shelter Services, wedged in a ragged neighborhood surrounded by other homeless aid groups, has not been turning anyone away over the last few days and has temporarily relaxed some of its rules on who can be admitted.Government workers, social service agencies and volunteers were driving across the city this week giving fluids and medical care to transients, but Mark Holleran, the chief executive of CASS, said the real issue for those who were dying probably wasn’t a lack of water or other help.A segment of the homeless population doesn’t want services, often because they are fiercely independent, mentally ill or addicted to drugs or alcohol, he said.”If you’re drinking and just out there staring into the sun, you literally toast yourself,” Holleran said. “People who are dying on the streets are not coming here.”


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