Summer heat poses major risk for people experiencing homelessness in Valley

Jun 13, 2022, 4:45 AM | Updated: 9:54 am

PHOENIX — Arizona’s brutal summer temperatures leave people experiencing homelessness at high risk and many of them in desperate need of care.

“Every little thing just puts you that much closer to the edge,” Dr. Christopher Pexton with local nonprofit Circle the City told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

Pexton works at the Human Services Campus in downtown Phoenix. Just outside the medical facility, dozens of tents line the streets.

The tents may offer shade, but they don’t entirely ward off the heat – and Pexton doesn’t mince words when he speaks about how dangerous the heat can be.

“People die of heat-related issues every year in Phoenix,” he said. “Around this area of Phoenix, where there are a lot of unsheltered people, we’ll hear every morning that someone was found in their tent.”

Those without shelter face the same risks as anyone living through Arizona’s extreme summers, including dehydration, heat stroke and sunburn. However, the lack of shelter exposes them to more serious injuries.

“People have been hit by cars and left in the street, then they’re on the pavement for a long period of time” Pexton said. “We see people who have chronic conditions that will get burned just being in their flip-flops on the street.”

Pexton said, above all, the unrelenting heat makes people weak and susceptible to illness. It also makes many pre-existing conditions worse, and their treatment more difficult.

“A lot of medications aren’t made to be exposed to that type of heat for a long period of time,” he said.

That includes life-saving medicine like insulin.

Pexton stresses Circle the City does its best to help those experiencing homelessness, but there are a lot of boxes to check.

“It’s really a multifactorial thing. Water is one piece of it, shelter is another piece of it, protection from the sun is another,” he said.

Although providing water is one of their important services, he said even that is only a start.

“You can be hydrated all day, but if you’re still being exposed, that might not be enough,” Pexton notes.

This summer, there are even more people experiencing homelessness that will need the aid organizations like Circle the City provide.

“The population on campus is double what it was when we started [in 2019],” Pexton said.

He adds many of them are elderly and on fixed incomes, and found themselves without a home because of increased costs.

“So we’re seeing people that are less mobile and more vulnerable outside more,” he says. “It just makes it more critical.”

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Summer heat poses major risk for people experiencing homelessness in Valley