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Valley non-profit looking for workers to help vulnerable seniors stay cool during heat

Posted at 6:43 PM, Jul 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-20 21:43:31-04

PHOENIX — Spending time watering plants on the patio of his Sun City home is a peaceful pleasure James Friend doesn't take for granted.

A couple of months ago, Friend spent a lot of his time worrying about his 27-year-old air conditioner.

"I can't tell you the anxiety that I had wondering each and every time that the unit shut down," Friend said. "I called the A/C guy out, and he took a look at it, the thing was rusted, unbelievable."

The only fix was a new unit at an estimated expense of $6,000, an amount he just couldn't afford. To make matters worse, "The roof was acting up," he said.

Condensation from the broken A/C had rotted the roof of his townhouse. Something else he couldn't afford, so he tried fixing it himself.

"I went ahead and went over to Lowe's bought five-gallon drums of this elastomeric (roof coating) and went up on the roof and just started smearing the best that I could," he explained.

Friend, who is 80 years old, said he had no other choice, "It was a matter of what am I going to do? I don't have the X amount of dollars to take care of to replace it."

He said a neighbor suggested he contact Maricopa County for help with the repairs.

"I thought, this is just silly. You know? I'll go ahead and make a try, but I never expected to get any kind of a response."

Seniors are particularly vulnerable to the heat. According to the Arizona Department of Health, seniors commonly have chronic health conditions and take prescriptions that make it harder for their bodies to regulate temperature.

RELATED: Heat deaths in large Arizona county hit half-year record

For 2021, the Maricopa County Department of Health reported 64 people over the age of 50 died inside their homes due to heat-related illnesses. Of those, 75% had an A/C that did not function.

Friend's Sun City area code, 85351, tied for the highest indoor heat-related deaths with 14 per 100,000 people.

The other top zip codes for indoor heat deaths were:

  • 85013 with 14 per 100,000
  • 85208 with 11 per 100,000
  • 85040 with 9 per 100,000
  • 85009 with 8 per 100,000

Friend was one of the fortunate ones.

After applying for repairs, he was referred to Foundation for Senior Living (FSL), a non-profit that provides social services for seniors which includes free home repairs.

"They replaced the A/C and the roof within two weeks. An incredible blessing. Absolutely incredible," he added.

Friend's lack of A/C qualified as an emergency and Jaime Moen, a rehab specialist with FSL, said the organization could do even more even quicker but can't hire enough people to do the work.

It's definitely something that weighs heavily in our programs that, you know, it never seems to be enough contractors," Moen said.

FSL finds and vets qualified contractors to do the repairs and then assigns them to clients.

Contractor Doug Mack worked on Friends' house. His company, Sun Valley Remodeling, has worked with FSL clients for 20 years and he says it's rewarding.

"They're (clients) at their wit's end on how to get this taken care of. And they get this knight in shining armor coming in and fixing things for them, that they had no way of getting it done," Mack said.

He says this year has been the toughest to recruit and retain qualified trades.

"We have what we need to do the work. They have the money, you know? We have the tools, the equipment, but we don't have the manpower," Mack stated.

FSL said it is in serious need of qualified electricians, plumbers, and HVAC technicians.

It's a dilemma with potentially deadly consequences.

Thankfully for Friend, his time on top of the roof and inside a hot house is over.

"That was all just completely wiped away. It would just like a huge load was lifted off of my shoulders," he said.

Contractors interested in working with FSL can email Info@fsl.org or find more information about FSL here.