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Shelters preparing for high demand during excessive heat warnings

PHOENIX — As temperatures are expected to reach above 110 degrees on Wednesday and Thursday, a Phoenix homeless shelter said it is preparing for a major increase in those seeking shelter to escape the heat.

Central Arizona Shelter Services (C.A.S.S.), located at 1214 W. Madison St., announced it is expecting to see about a 22 percent increase in demand for shelter this week, most likely beginning on Wednesday.

Mark Holleran, CEO of C.A.S.S., said that to deal with the increase, the shelter will open areas not generally used for housing to accommodate the influx.

“I think there are any number of homeless individuals that are scattered throughout the community and they’re able to survive in the normal heat,” he said. “But when we hit these excessive heat warnings issued by the weather service, it gets very oppressive.”

Holleran said whenever the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issues an excessive heat warning, C.A.S.S. makes arrangements to house higher-than-average numbers of people.

“On an emergency basis, we open additional facilities that provide a place for these individuals to go so they can be safe, secure (and) have access to bathrooms,” Holleran said. “No one should die on the streets because of the heat.”

Heat warnings are often issued not just when daytime highs reach excessive levels, but when overnight lows remain high, as well.

According to meteorologist Valerie Meyers at the National Weather Service, Wednesday and Thursday’s daytime highs are expected to reach 113 degrees and overnight lows between those days is only expected to drop into the low 90s.

Holleran said high overnight temperatures present an added danger to people living on the streets because they have no chance to escape the heat and “re-energize” for the next day.

“(We) can be out in the heat, but then we go home and we go into a cool environment and we can relax and go through that recharge,” he said. “If you’re on the streets, you don’t have that available to you.”

C.A.S.S. began opening up additional shelters during heat warnings in 2005, when more than 30 people died on the streets of Maricopa County in July that year, Holleran said.

“It was very, very hot, which wasn’t a surprise to anyone, but at night it stayed hot,” he said.

The 22 percent increase means C.A.S.S. could see about 200 more people, if the excessive heat continues overnight Wednesday and Thursday. Nevertheless, Holleran said they’re prepared to handle whatever comes their way.

“We will turn no one away,” he said. “If we fill up, we will be using one of our partner agency’s facilities — the Lodestar Day Resource Center — and if that fills up, we have agreements with St. Vincent de Paul to open up their dining hall, if that’s what’s needed.”

During the summer months, Holleran said C.A.S.S. provides a lot of water to its clients and even some to Phoenix Police, so officers can help people if they’re in distress on the streets. The Salvation Army set up hydration stations around the city to help the homeless get water.

The shelter relies heavily on donations to provide water to people, especially during excessive heat warnings, and Holleran said they’re always accepting donations.

Donations can be made to C.A.S.S. by visiting or calling 602-417-9800.