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Valley heat relief options scarce amid pandemic

Posted at 10:51 PM, May 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-27 02:00:42-04

As we approach extreme heat, those who live on the streets or can't afford to turn the air conditioning on are finding out they don't have as many places to escape to this summer.

"My concern was weeks ago with people dying because of heat, not necessarily COVID-19," said Amy Schwabenlender, Executive Director of Human Services Campus, a non-profit helping more than a dozen Valley agencies provide emergency shelter to those in need.

"It's really a tough time for them," added Major David Yardley with the Salvation Army. "Where can they get their next drink? They know that they need that to prevent some of the sun illnesses and deaths."

In Phoenix, city pools and public libraries are still closed leaving some who relied on those helpful public spaces with less options.

“Before COVID, we couldn’t shelter everyone that was seeking shelter in this campus. We had to turn away 500 people a month," added Schwabenlender. "Our services system that was already under resourced to help everyone in need is going to be really stretched very thin."

The Human Services Campus says shelters operated by agencies like Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS) are being forced to limit capacity due to safety recommendations in response to COVID-19. A shelter that once fit 400 beds in a room is now down to 300.

The Human Services Campus also operated a "day room" out of the Lodestar Day Resource Center that used to allow space dedicated to heat relief during the hottest days of the year. The need for beds though, forcing that space to change into something else.

"I didn’t wanna displace all those people to the streets, so we turned our day room essentially into a 24/7 shelter for up to 47 of the highest risk and most vulnerable individuals," added Schwabenlender.

However, there's a long waiting list for a spot here. A problem she says they're hoping to solve with the help of state, county and city leaders.

"We’ve all got to look for spaces, to seek partnerships, to seek funding to allow us to bring those other types of options online somewhere.”

The Salvation Army says it will open 12 heat-relief stations starting Wednesday, May 27 through Saturday May 30 from 11a.m. to 5 p.m for men, women, kids and leashed pets who need to escape the harsh summer rays. The non-profit also has water, and boxes of food on hand.

“When they do come in, we give them a kit that has a mask, gloves and some hand sanitizer that if they’re going to stay in the cooling station they must put on," said Major Yardley.

To find a location near you, click here.