Arizona Digital Free Press - Logo

Shoeleather Journalism in the Digital Age

Shoeleather Journalism
in the Digital Age

Heat and those experiencing homelessness: What Phoenix community leaders are doing about it

Photo a person experiencing homelessness in downtown Phoenix
A view of what it reality looks like as those experiencing homelessness seek to survive on the streets of downtown Phoenix. (File Photos/

A ground level view of helping those in need in Phoenix

By Hayden Larkin | Special to the Digital Free Press

The dry and blazing heat of Arizona.

While most people can escape to the comfort of an air-conditioned home, apartment or office, plenty of others cannot. Hundreds of people live in tents, pushing their belongings in carts and suffering from the sun’s brutal rays.

Desperate for shade, desperate for water.

Last year there were a reported 339 heat-related deaths and those most at-risk are unsheltered individuals. According to recent reports from the Phoenix Rescue Mission, there are about 9,000 people in various stages of homelessness throughout Maricopa County and about 56% of them are living out of cars or on the street.

And as the temperature only gets hotter and as shelter becomes more and more expensive post-COVID, the conditions are only worsening.

“We in general need to do a better job of taking care of our neighbors,” said Keli Williams, director of human services at the Maricopa Association of Governments. “MAG helped to create the Heat Relief Network in 2005 in order to show locations of hydration stations, cooling sites and donation stations for unsheltered and low-income people. We had over 200 different organizations participate last year. Real change is going to come from the community level.”

Ms. Williams says a new effort afoot is creating a system to track who is utilizing the services in order to better accommodate citizens.

“We have been trained not to look unsheltered people in the eye — these are people who have stories,” she said. “Real change is going to come from the community level.”

Human services in downtown Phoenix

The Human Services Campus, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in downtown Phoenix, continues to be a vital respite for those experiencing the various levels of homelessness.

The campus receives some grants and government contributions in order to provide shelter, hydration, clothing and other extensive services for other people and have been praised for their contributions to the community.

“Right now, there are about 900 people on the Human Services Campus, where there are enough shelter beds for 700 single adults,” said Amy Schwabenlender, executive director of Human Services Campus. “On the streets around the campus, the latest count of unsheltered individuals this week was just over 800, nearly three times what it was a year ago.”

Ms. Schwabenlender reports the Human Services Campus has served about 6,530 people over the past 12 months.

David Hondula at the Phoenix Office of Heat Response and Mitigation, who is also an associate professor at Arizona State University, has some plans to help in the future.

“Every heat associated death is preventable,” Mr. Hondula said. “Passing out water bottles is just a cure for the symptom.”

Mr. Hondula has helped to get Phoenix’s first compilation of information on heat mitigation programs together — Summer Heat Response Plan.

A view of downtown Phoenix. (File Photos/
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Category Sponsor

Learn About the Author

Category Sponsor

Lisa Borowsky - Ad

Newsletter Sign Up

Scottsdale Daily Beat - Logo

Could we interest you in Local News That Matters? How about Enterprise Business Reporting & Free Press Philanthropy?

Mountain Shadows 2
SCC Display
WK-OktoberWest-2023-1080x1080 (3)


Paradise Valley