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As temperatures swell, Salvation Army workers hand out water in Phoenix

Jowan Thornton (left) and Jose Melendez (right) fill up their buckets with cold water bottles to hand out to homeless people at a park near downtown Phoenix on Wednesday. (KTAR News/Griselda Zetino)

PHOENIX — Holding a bucket full of cold bottled waters, Jowan Thornton from the Salvation Army walked around a park near downtown Phoenix on Tuesday.

Temperatures reached 116 degrees later that day and tied a daily record high.

“Hey, how are you doing? You need a water, man?” he asked a man walking by. “How many do you want? We can give you as many as you can carry.”

Thornton then came across a group of about half a dozen people trying to get relief from the heat underneath a park ramada.

“These are the folks that we want to specifically target to alleviate some of the symptoms that they’re facing from heat,” he said.

The park is just one of many in the Valley where the Salvation Army sends out its two mobile hydration units to pass out water. They target areas known to have high homeless populations and encampments.

Over the last few months, they’ve handed out more than 7,000 bottles of water to about 4,000 people.

The mobile hydration units are part of the Salvation Army’s Red Shield Survival Squad, which activates 13 heat relief stations throughout the Valley where anyone can go for cooling and hydration.

The heat relief stations along with the mobile hydration units are activated whenever the National Weather Service declares an excessive heat warning.

On Tuesday, Phoenix reached the hottest day so far this year, and the high was expected to range from 114 to 116 degrees on Wednesday.

Thornton said temperatures this high can be dangerous and even deadly for people who don’t have a place to escape from the heat.

As a way to provide some relief, he and Jose Melendez – who’s part of the mobile hydration units – scanned the Phoenix area on Tuesday to hand out waters and other supplies, such as wet bandanas, sunglasses and sunscreen.

“Areas that we try to target are parks where we see people trying to find refuge under a tree, specifically homeless individuals,” he said. “They’re the most vulnerable and the most affected by the heat.”

Thornton said they also target areas where homeless people are known to assemble, including side streets and bus stops.

“We just try to connect with as many people as possible by providing something as basic as water, which should be accessible to everyone,” he said.

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