On a sidewalk in the Arizona capital Phoenix, where a record-setting heat wave has warned people to limit their time outside, Dana Page is struggling to stay hydrated in her tarpaulin shelter.
Surrounded by water bottles, the 49-year-old knows all too well the danger the heat poses to the homeless population.
A few days earlier, she watched emergency responders perform CPR on a fellow resident of “The Zone,” a camp where hundreds of people live in tents and makeshift shelters near the city.
“He died just inches from the water,” he told AFP.
Phoenix, like much of the US Southwest, is surrounded by desert, and its 1.6 million residents are accustomed to brutal summer temperatures.
But this year’s heat wave is unprecedented in its length: It has already helped the city break its previous record of 18 consecutive days at or above 110 °F (43 °C), with similar heatwaves forecast for next week.
Page, a Phoenix native who said she’s suffered heatstroke three times in the past five years, described it as a “secret killer” that lurks if one doesn’t monitor their water intake.
jump in heat related deaths
The absence of normal monsoon rains has also added to the problem: with no respite from the scorching heat during the day, overnight temperatures stay dangerously high.
“If this continues, we will see more heat-related deaths,” said Amy Schwabenlender, head of the Human Services Campus, a large facility near “The Zone” where 16 associations provide social services, medical treatment and shelter for those in need. cooperate to do.
“It’s a life-and-death situation,” he warned.
Due to its population growth being the highest in the United States, as well as a lack of affordable housing, Arizona has seen a 23 percent increase in the number of homeless people in recent years.
And as extreme weather events become more frequent due to global warming, homeless people are increasingly exposed to the elements.
Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and its suburbs, reported a 25 percent increase in heat-related deaths last year, with 425 deaths — many among the homeless population.
The National Weather Service has warned that extreme heat is the biggest weather-related killer, and has advised people in Phoenix to “stay indoors and seek air-conditioned buildings” during the heat wave.
‘Enough resources to help everyone’
Manav Sewa Complex is running at full speed to deal with the emergency. Its organizations send out patrols early in the morning to distribute 2,000 bottles of water every day, as well as sunblock and hats.
Like about sixty other sites around the city, this facility also serves as a cooling center, where homeless people can find shadows, misters, and a spacious air-conditioned cafeteria with film shows to pass the time.
Schwabenlender warns that scorching hot surfaces outside also pose a significant danger, especially to those with scuffed shoes or bare feet, as well as those who fall or are lying on the ground.
He said, “I saw a man who was lying on something and his entire neck was burnt.”
Asphalt temperatures can reach above 160F (71C) in the summer sun.
Days ago, former house painter Jose Itafranco collapsed on the pavement after ingesting methamphetamine, but the 30-year-old said he was lucky his wife Alvira was nearby to support his body.
“When you do meth… it really makes you think you’re tougher than you are… like you’re an outcast,” Itafranco told AFP.
“But what really happens is you get dehydrated.”
Schwabenlender argues that the hundreds of heat-related deaths in Maricopa County could have been avoided with a more coordinated response, and calls for federal emergency action in line with other natural disasters.
The White House, for its part, last week outlined various federal initiatives related to the “extreme heat resulting from the climate crisis,” including an upcoming meeting with local officials to discuss preparedness, as well as a “national heat strategy.” including drafting.
“We have enough resources to help everyone, we just have to figure out how to put them all together,” Schwabenlender said.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV Staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)