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Cooling stations helping those in need battle the rise in temperatures

Posted at 6:05 PM, Jun 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-10 08:31:39-04

PHOENIX — With temperatures reaching 110 degrees, Phoenix fell under its first Excessive Heat Warning of the year on Wednesday.

Cooling stations across the Valley began opening their doors as people seek a safe place for shelter.

Christopher Plunkett is recently homeless. He has been living on the streets for just the past three months.

"It's been rough!" he said with a sheepish laugh.

Plunkett found shelter at the Salvation Army cooling center near Arizona Avenue and Pecos Road in Chandler.

The heat outside, he says, is downright dangerous.

"I have a few medical issues and the heat does drain me a little quicker than it used to," he said.

Plunkett says the Salvation Army cooling center has been a godsend.

"There's two keys to being homeless," he said half-jokingly. "One of them is, don't look homeless. And the other one is, don't smell homeless, for crying out loud."

The Chandler center offers breakfast, lunch, and snacks in a cool air-conditioned room. Guests get as much water as they need, hygiene items, and even a place to shower and wash their clothes.

Services like these, Plunket says to him, mean the world.

"It helps me with my confidence. It helps me feel more dignified. So that's definitely something because if you don't have a positive attitude, it's really hard to get where you want to be," he said.

Salvation Army Captain Regeina Williams says the cooling center has actually been open since May 23, but they definitely see things ramp up as we near the heat of summer.

Williams says she stresses the center as a judgment-free zone, with everyone welcome no matter the background or circumstances.

"As long as you're in the community and you're in need, our doors are open for you," Williams said.

She says the cooling center not only saves lives by getting people out of the heat, but it changes lives as well.

"We kind of restore the dignity back into individuals, knowing that they have a safe place to go, but also a caring facility with the staff that's going to care about them," she said.

Williams says The Salvation Army goes even further in helping people who've fallen on hard times, get back on their feet.

"We also connect them with the city's homeless outreach team to get them into resources," she said. The organization helps the homeless get an official ID and Social Security card.

The Phoenix Rescue Mission does the same.

Mindy Gray has been with the mission's mobile heat program since 2015.

"We drive around, we're in the parks, we're just out in the community," she said.

Mindy and her staff were handing out bottles of water and hygiene items to people at Vista Del Camino Park in Scottsdale Wednesday afternoon.

"We do it because it needs to be done," she said while walking the park in temperatures nearing 100 degrees.

Mindy says something as simple as a water bottle provides an opportunity to share that "God hasn't forgotten about them, even when they've hit hard times."

Both the Phoenix Rescue Mission and Salvation Army offer heat relief year-round and are always looking for volunteers.

The city of Phoenix also urging people to check on their neighbors. The city released a statement on its Twitter page Wednesday saying there were 339 heat deaths in Maricopa County in 2021, and nearly 22% of those were people who were indoors with no air conditioning.