PHOENIX (AP) — Under the scorching sun in downtown Phoenix, hundreds of tents in blue, green and gray were pitched on dusty sidewalks, piles of flimsy canvas and plastic. Here, in America’s hottest big city, thousands of homeless people are sweltering as triple-digit summer temperatures arrive.
Amid pandemic-era evictions and soaring rents, the suffocating tent city has ballooned, with hundreds of people pouring into scorching streets that become eerily quiet when mid-afternoon temperatures peak. A heatwave earlier this month brought temperatures as high as 114 degrees (45.5 degrees Celsius) – and it’s only June. Last year’s maximum temperature reached 118 degrees (47.7 degrees Celsius).
“In the summer, it’s hard to find a place where it’s cool enough to sleep at night without being chased away by the police,” said Chris Medlock, a man known on the streets as a “T-bone”. “The homeless Phoenix man who carries everything he has. Pack in a small backpack and lie down often in parks or nearby desert reserves to avoid crowds.
“If a kind soul could provide a place on their indoor couch, maybe more people would live there,” Medlock said at a restaurant where the homeless could get some shade and free meals.
Overheating has caused more weather-related deaths in the United States than hurricanes, floods and tornadoes combined.
Across the country, heat kills about 1,500 people a year, with advocates estimating that about half of them are homeless.
Rising temperatures almost everywhere due to global warming, coupled with severe droughts in some places, have created more intense, frequent and longer heatwaves. The past few summers have been the hottest on record.
Just in the county seat including Phoenix, At least 130 homeless Is one of 339 people who will die from heat-related causes in 2021.
“If 130 homeless people died in any other way, that would be considered a mass casualty event,” said Kristie L. Ebi, a professor of global health at the University of Washington.
It’s an issue across the U.S., and now, with global temperatures rising, heat is no longer a danger in places like Phoenix.
Temperatures are likely to be warmer than normal across much of the world’s landmass this summer, according to a report. seasonal map Volunteer Climatologist Created for Columbia University International Institute.
Last summer, a heat wave swept through the usually mild U.S. Northwest, and Seattle residents slept in yards and rooftops or fled to air-conditioned hotels. Across the state, several people believed to be homeless have died outdoors, including a man who collapsed behind a gas station.
In Oregon, officials opened 24-hour cooling centers for the first time. Volunteers spread out Provided water and popsicles to homeless camps in the suburbs of Portland.
One Rapid scientific analysis It concluded that last year’s Pacific Northwest heatwave would have been virtually impossible without human-caused climate change adding a few degrees and overturning previous records.
Even Boston is exploring ways to protect different neighborhoods, such as Chinatown, where high population densities and few shade trees contribute to summer temperatures as high as 106 degrees (41 degrees Celsius). The city plans to adopt strategies such as adding canopy and other kinds of shade, using cooler roofing materials, and expanding its network of cooling centers during heat waves.
This is not just an American problem. Associated Press Analysis Last year, a dataset released by Columbia University’s School of Climate found that exposure to extreme heat has tripled and now affects about a quarter of the world’s population.
This spring, extreme heat waves swept across much of Pakistan and India, where homelessness was widespread due to discrimination and inadequate housing. In May, high temperatures reached 122 degrees (50 degrees Celsius) in Jakobbad, Pakistan, near the Indian border.
Dr Dileep Mavalankar, director of the Indian Institute of Public Health in the western Indian city of Gandhinagar, said it was unclear how many people had died from the heat in the country due to poor reporting.
Since a heat wave in 2003 killed 70,000 people in Europe, summer cooling centers for the homeless, the elderly and other vulnerable groups have opened in several European countries every summer.
Emergency services on bicycles patrol the streets of Madrid, handing out ice packs and water during the hot months. Still, around 1,300 people, most of them elderly, continue to die in Spain each summer as overheating exacerbates health complications.
Spain and southern France were muggy last week with unusually hot mid-June, with temperatures reaching 104 degrees (40 degrees Celsius) in some areas.
Climate scientist David Hondura, who is in charge of Phoenix’s new heat reduction officesaid that now with this type of extreme weather around the world, more solutions are needed to protect vulnerable people, especially the homeless, who are 200 times more likely to die from heat-related causes than refugees. .
“As temperatures continue to rise in the U.S. and around the world, cities like Seattle, Minneapolis, New York or Kansas City that don’t have the experience or infrastructure to deal with heat will have to adjust too.”
In Phoenix, officials and advocates hope a vacant building recently converted into a 200-bed homeless shelter will help save lives this summer.
Mac Mais, 34, was one of the first to move in.
“It can be rough. I live in a shelter or anywhere I can find,” said Mays, who has been homeless on and off since his teenage years. “Here, I can actually take a break outside, work on a job application, and get away from the heat.”
In Las Vegas, the team provided bottled water to homeless people living in camps around the county and within a network of underground storm drains under the Las Vegas Strip.
Ahmedabad, India, with a population of 8.4 million, was the first South Asian city to design a hot action plan in 2013.
Through its early warning system, NGOs can contact vulnerable groups and send text messages to mobile phones. Water trucks were dispatched to the slums, while bus stops, temples and libraries became refuges from the flames.
Still, the death toll continues to rise.
In October 2020, Kimberly Rae Haws, a 62-year-old homeless woman, suffered severe burns as she lay on her stomach for an unknown amount of time on a hot Phoenix asphalt. The cause of her subsequent death has never been investigated.
One weekend in 2018, hours before Phoenix Handout Kitchen opened, a young man nicknamed Twitch died from the heat while sitting on the curb near Phoenix Handout Kitchen.
“He should be moving into permanent housing next Monday,” said Jim Baker, who runs the restaurant for the charity St Vincent de Paul. “His mother is very sad.”
Many of these deaths are never confirmed to be heat-related and are not always noticed due to the stigma of being homeless and a lack of contact with family members.
When a 62-year-old psychopath named Shauna Wright is dead In a hot alley in Salt Lake City last summer, news of her death was not known until her family published an obituary saying the system had failed to protect her during the hottest July on record, when temperatures reached three figures.
Her sister Tricia Wright said making permanent housing more accessible to the homeless would go a long way in protecting them from extreme summer temperatures.
“We always thought she was strong and she could get through this,” Tricia Wright said of her sister. “But no one can handle that heat.”
AP Science Writers Aniruddha Ghosal in New Delhi and AP Writers Frances D’Emilio in Rome and Ciaran Giles in Madrid contributed to this report.
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