Phoenix’s heat response office discusses changes to programs ahead of this summer
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Temperatures are rising fast, which has the City of Phoenix looking at ways to help its most vulnerable. The Office of Heat Response and Mitigation has been around for about a year and a half, but because the team is still so new, they’re learning what works and what doesn’t. So come this summer, they’re making changes in hopes of addressing the heat in the most vulnerable populations.
“What last summer really taught us is as we’ve seen in the health department records for years is how concentrated and disproportionate the burden of heat is on certain communities,” said David Hondula, the director of the city’s Office of Heat Response and Mitigation.
Extreme heat in Phoenix is not new, but research into the most vulnerable populations is. “Our unsheltered neighbors are at about 300 to 400 times higher risk of heat associated death than the rest of the population. Mobile and manufactured home residents are at about 10 and 15 times higher risk,” said Leslie Zschokke with Central Arizona Shelter Services.
Central Arizona Shelter Services, also known as CASS, says about 30% of the unsheltered community is elderly. In July, CASS hopes to provide some of that population shelter. “We’ll be able to have 170 of those seniors who are in the heat, exposed to the elements, no place to go, bring them into shelters and have them work with case managers and end their homelessness and move on to permanent sustainable housing,” Zschokke said.
The organization is also increasing beds at the main single adult shelter from 470 to 600, but the city knows getting people into these beds can often be difficult. “The 50 community nonprofits that do heat relief outreach can of course reach much farther than the city can on its own and we know, appreciate and respect that they have longer and stronger relationships with certain communities,” said Hondula.
“We are cool” is a volunteer program that began in 2017, and starting this year, it will address different locations in Phoenix needing help. The goal of the program is also now focused on finding long-term solutions. “Ultimately our hope through ‘we’re cool’ is to connect people into our critical social service program that can help them get safer and more stable housing,” said Zschokke.
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