Heat-associated deaths in Arizona’s largest county have hit a half-year record as more homeless people live unprotected outdoors in the arid desert city. At the same time, summer temperatures soar well into triple digits.
The most recent data from the Maricopa County Department of Health shows 17 heat-associated fatalities were registered this year through the first week of July, with another 126 under investigation. About two-thirds of the deaths involved people who were outdoors.
Other cities around the US and the world are also sweating through earlier, more intense, and longer-lasting heat waves that scientists blame on global warming. Record high temperatures currently grip Europe, with London officials asking people to stay home and wildfires raging in Spain, France, and elsewhere.
In Arizona’s Maricopa County, the number of heat-associated deaths reported during the first half is far greater than those recorded during the same period in past years. There were 11 such fatalities in the first six months of 2021 with 107 more under investigation, four during that period in 2020 with another 48 under investigation, and three in 2019 with 27 more under investigation.
The health department reported 339 heat-associated deaths in Maricopa County for all of 2021.
The county’s latest data come amid a surge in the number of homeless people living on the streets in greater Phoenix as temperatures average about 112 degrees.
More than 1,000 unhoused people currently sleep in tents in downtown Phoenix and the hundreds who fill emergency shelters nearby.
In an effort to prevent more heat-associated deaths, Phoenix and Maricopa County joined local nonprofits this year to outfit a summertime shelter with 200 beds in an unused government building east of downtown.
Landscapers, construction workers, and others who labor outside are also vulnerable to the intense summer heat.
A homeowner in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale late last week widely shared a video from his door camera of a delivery driver who appeared to be overcome Thursday by the heat as he briefly collapsed on the porch. The high hit 110 degrees that day.
“During the summer months in Phoenix, asphalt can heat up to a deadly 170 degrees. Anything above 104 degrees can cause brain damage and death,” said Phoenix Rescue Mission CEO Ken Brissa. “While many Valley residents find respite indoors, our unhoused neighbors cannot take shelter from the heat and need help that can come to them.”
Several municipalities, including Avondale, Peoria, Glendale, Goodyear, Surprise, El Mirage, and Scottsdale, have created partnerships with the Mission, bringing relief to the streets in the Mission’s Hope Coach vehicles to distribute water, toiletries, and case management services.
“Anything helps in this undertaking to save and change lives, whether it’s through a small monetary donation, dropping off a case of water, or starting a water drive,” said Brissa. “This is so much more than a handout of water. This is arming people with the tools to change their lives and move out of harm’s way.”
The Phoenix Rescue Mission, which assists the city’s unhoused and at-risk individuals, can be reached at 602-233-3000.