PHOENIX — Phoenix city leaders are working to create a community-wide plan to help save people from extreme heat in the Valley. The heat response plan would mainly focus on the homeless camp downtown, where hundreds of people live in tents and other makeshift shelters.
Last year, Phoenix established the Office of Heat Response and Mitigation to help deal with ongoing extreme heat concerns. Heat and sunshine is no stranger to Phoenix and especially during the summer months, temperatures often reach above 90 degrees, sometimes higher than 110 degrees, which can be dangerous and life-threatening.
Director David Hondula is recommending that a city-wide response plan would be fully implemented and operational by May 1, 2022.
Hondula shared some ideas last week during the Community and Cultural Investment Subcommittee.
"We are here before you with a sense of urgency around the need to improve our community-wide heat response efforts," he told the committee.
He said more needs to be done to protect people without regular access to shelter.
According to Maricopa County data, the county has seen a 400% increase in heat-related deaths since 2014. At its peak, there were 329 deaths reported in 2021, most being located within Phoenix's jurisdiction.
Many people have set up cam in the lots and sidewalks in downtown Phoenix, near the Human Services Campus and the Arizona Capitol complex.
"Subsequent investigation often finds that heat decedents are unsheltered and, in many cases, have indications of drug or alcohol use at the time of death," he said. "It's clear from examining our records that our best opportunity is to move the needle in terms of heat-related deaths is by helping those unsheltered and battling substance abuse."
Phoenix wants to add cool and shaded spaces and more signage to guide people to cooling centers and water. The plan also proposes backup power at locations that could serve as cooling centers if the power were to go out.
"We need to be starting a lot earlier, it’s too late in June, July, August reacting to the situations," said Councilmember Yassamin Ansari. "We just need to be working on a much larger scale and to be frank, it’s only going to get worse as climate change worsens and extreme heat gets worse and worse in the city of Phoenix.”
Later this month, a tented shelter with the ability to house up to 100 people is expected to open in Phoenix.
"It will have 100 beds, hand-washing stations, bathrooms, access to cell phone chargers and other technology," Ansari said.
She said she's spent time talking to people in the area and that those individuals have expressed appreciation for having access to air conditioning. She hopes to open more cooling buses in the area this summer.
Other proposed ideas include handing out refillable water bottles and encouraging people to report heat-related cases and to stay on site until help arrives.
The full plan will be presented to Phoenix City Council in April.