The Homeless in Mortal Danger During Southwest Heatwave

August 28, 2019

In the first part of this series we looked into how heatwaves place outdoor workers at extreme risk, in temperatures for which the human body is not prepared. Part two takes a closer look at a group that is most affected by heatwaves: homeless people

In the first part of this series we looked into how heatwaves place outdoor workers at extreme risk, in temperatures for which the human body is not prepared. Part two takes a closer look at a group that is most affected by heatwaves: homeless people


The Homeless in Mortal Danger During Southwest Heatwave

Story Transcript

Homeless in the Heat Wave / Phoenix
On the first chapter of this series we looked into how heat waves affect workers who perform outdoors, and the potential dangers for those working under extreme temperatures, for which the human body is not prepared. In chapter two, we will look into the group that is most affected by heat waves, homeless people.
By Oscar Leon
During the second week of August 2019, temperatures broke records worldwide, with forest fires raging from the Amazon to Siberia. Also, ice melted at a record pace in Greenland, and there were intense heat waves in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.
July was the hottest month ever recorded.
Cities such as Phoenix, Arizona, account for hundreds of heat related deaths every year. Last year 182 people lost their lives in heat-related incidents. This summer, (2019) by the end of June, with 2 more months to go, (according to Maricopa County) there have been 160 heat related deaths, and the count is still open.
However, most heat-related deaths, around 40% of the total, are of homeless people, the group most at risk.
Cpt. Danny Gile
Phoenix Fire Department
“The homeless are a big issue, in Phoenix we have a large population, and like I said if you have no place to go, no place to live, and you are out in the hot asphalt, the hot concrete all day, it just expands on the problems we talked about, so it makes heat very difficult to deal with, as a homeless person here in Arizona.
They struggle.”
On August 21st, I visited downtown Phoenix. As I approached the city, temperatures went from 104 fahrenheit at 9:45am, to 108 at 10:30am, to 114 at 3pm.
In cities around the world, when heatwave alerts are declared, they warn of temperatures often in the 90’s.
The human body is designed to work at an internal temperature of 99 degrees fahrenheit. If the body reaches over 100 degrees, it should be considered Hyperthermia, which can lead to a number of consequences, including heat stroke, and should be treated as a medical emergency, to prevent disability or even death.
Sam
Homeless, 50 years old
“If you stay here you have to be kind of used to, but if you are not used to and you come here, it will just drop you. One day is ok, the next day, you just feel like, I don’t know like all the water has been taken out of you. You drink water all day and you don’t go to the bathroom, you just sweat.”
“Sam”, asked for us to protect his privacy, He told us how hard and cruel life in the streets can be.
Sam
Homeless, 50 years old
“I have a friend, he was… everybody thought he was going crazy, but it was the heat. And next thing you know, they said he died of cancer, I thought there was something wrong with him, next day he couldn’t wake up and he was dead. A lot of people die out here because of the heat, they can’t get no water.”
To think that human beings, designed to work at internal temperature of 99 degrees, have to endure 110+ fahrenheit degrees of temperature, for weeks at a time, it is mind-boggling, especially because it feels unbearable, even for a few minutes.
Oscar Leon
TRNN
“I was doing a number of interviews in there, at 11am, at 109 fahrenheit, my camera overheated and stopped working, and that just goes to show how extreme the conditions are here.”
VO: On 11th Avenue in downtown Phoenix, there are two shelters across the street from each other, providing relief to many people in need. Both shelters provide cool environments and showers, as well as hot meals, for those seeking refuge from the heat wave.

Ash Uss
Advocacy & Partnerships Cord. Andre House of Hospitality
“In one of our more recent surveys, we found out that 50% of people that come here for dinner every night, leave here to go and sleep on the street.”
We visited Andre House of Hospitality, and spoke to Ash Uss, media representative and Advocacy & Partnerships Coordinator.
Ash Uss
Advocacy & Partnerships Cord. Andre House of Hospitality
“There are a lot of ways that the heat manifests, we see people being extremely irritable, with very short fuses, people who are normally so kind and patient, who are just exhausted by the heat.”
“Unfortunately we have seen a fair share of people that we know and love, who have passed away, directly due to the heat.”
Outside the shelter we met Joseph Johnson, a native american from the Phoenix rural area. He has been on the streets for more than 5 years and despite being accustomed to the heat, he let us know how much it still affects him every day.
Joseph
Homeless, 50 years old
“The effects are so very bad, the heat, some people are so exhausted, they want to get a shade, there is not enough shade around, yet they survive, they have to handle the heat with no shade, but we survive. But it does affect a lot … we have to go through these heat waves.”
We spoke to Darlene, originally from Chicago; she came to Phoenix with a boyfriend that spent all of her money and then disappeared, leaving her desperately searching for him but also living on the streets.
Darlene
Homeless, 53 years old
“It affects you a lot, I mean the heat exhaustion, you need to drink a lot of water … you have to make sure you get your supplies, it is hard work, it is a constant thing all day long, just to stay cool.
It is important to get a shower, you know, keep your skin clean, and stay healthy, eat right, good food, you know … Andre House, we wouldn’t survive without this place out here, they give us our toiletries, our showers a place to stay cool during the day.
I know that when I get back on my feet, I’ll get back here to help, because they really need it.”
According to Darlene, heat fatalities deeply affect the morale of surviving homeless people. She said that the worst part for her, is to meet fellow homeless who had given up, because after that is almost impossible to help them survive.
Ash Uss
Advocacy & Partnerships Cord. Andre House of Hospitality
“The average person does not know that there have been 20 people in this immediate area that have passed away from the heat. Simply because they were experiencing homelesness. Since July, July 1, so it has been a little over a month, that is 20 lives that are gone forever, you know, because of the heat.”
Darlene
Homeless, 53 years old
“We get to have a lot of deaths this time of the year, I mean we had 6 in one weekend, from heat exhaustion, from [absence of] water, from dehydration. It is crazy, when there is so much water around us.
So people, if they don’t deliver [water], I mean look across the street, there is handicap people, they can’t move around, so if they don’t get to medical services, they end up dying out here, we had a lot of young people, we had a 31 year old lady, who just died of heat exhaustion.”
Joseph Johnson
Homeless, 50 years old
“You try to sleep, you toss and turn, it is hot, but morning comes quick though, and it is still kind of hot in the morning, and it is going to be another hot day, and you know in your head it is going to be another hot day, and people know it and they realize what the next day it is going to be.”
Beyond the tragedy of death, there is the tragedy of dehumanization. According to several sources, despite the fact that access to water is mandated by state law, homeless people are denied water all the time.
Darlene
Homeless, 53 years old
“When you do go out in public, people tend to look at you like you are a contagious disease, carry a backpack and walk downtown for an evening, and people won’t give you service, they won’t give you water, by law they are supposed to in the state, but in restaurants, or in hotels, you know, they won’t give it to you, because you are homeless.”
Stay with The Real News for more on the issue.