PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - The homeless encampment west of downtown Phoenix provides a bleak vision of life on the streets, but now Arizona State University researchers can give a better feel for how tough life there really is.
"We took MaRTy out on the parking lot where the homeless people camp," said Ariane Middel, an urban climate and extreme heat researcher at ASU. "And MaRTy measured a radiant temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit."
An Arizona State University climatologist is helping others seek shade during the hot summer sun in Arizona.
The "MaRTy" Middel is referring to isn't a person -- it's a sophisticated heat-sensing and measuring device. The team went out to the encampment near Ninth Avenue and Jefferson Street last Monday while the ambient temperature was 108.
"So that's pretty hot already, but when you add the radiation, that puts your body as you're standing in the middle of the sun and then also the radiation that also comes off the hot parking lot, you end up with 160 degrees Fahrenheit," Middel said.
It's a temperature that can sometimes be deadly.
"These are not safe conditions for anybody to be out there for a prolonged period of time," Middel said.
The situation at the downtown homeless encampment is an extreme example of how a lack of shade can impact an area's temperature, though shade in Phoenix is often linked to a neighborhood's wealth.
"We definitely need more shade and we need more shade specifically in places where people are. Where people walk, where people camp, where people sit at bus stops," Middel said.
When MaRTy was taken to a more affluent, tree-lined neighborhood north of downtown Phoenix on the same day it recorded the 160-degree radiant temperature at the homeless encampment, it recorded both an ambient and radiant temperature of only 104 degrees.
"Trees should be viewed as public health infrastructure," said community advocate Stacey Champion. "If you're standing in a shaded area, whether it's tree-shaded or engineered shade, you're going to be much more comfortable."
The City of Phoenix admits there is a tree disparity between upper and lower-income neighborhoods.
"For that reason, the City has been prioritizing tree planting in vulnerable communities in the past few years," said Phoenix's Chief Sustainability Officer Mark Hartman.
In 2019, the City of Phoenix reports it planted more than 4,000 trees. But Champion says there's still too big a difference between Phoenix's well-off and working class.
"If anybody goes and drives around South Phoenix or drives around Maryvale, you're going to see a big difference, and also a big difference in the temperature," Champion said.
And Middel notes that tree planting and shade construction will take on increased significance as climate change brings even hotter summers to Phoenix.
"The heat is not going away," Middel said. "So we have to find solutions to make it more comfortable outdoors for people to be outdoors, especially for those who don't have a choice."