Beating the Heat: Arizona Faith Network in partnership with the Cooling Center and Arizona Heat Resilience Workgroups bring together lawmakers and city staff to visit local cooling centers
On the hottest day of the summer, with temperatures at 116 degrees Fahrenheit, several Arizona legislators invited by the Arizona Faith Network joined city staff and participants of the Arizona Heat Resilience and Cooling Center Workgroups on tours of local cooling centers and facilities in the Phoenix Metro area. Visits to the centers provided decision-makers with real-time, first-hand experiences and information about these critical relief efforts and the many challenges required to provide ongoing services to the public. The cooling center tours were coordinated by the Arizona Faith Network, the Cooling Center Workgroup, and Arizona Heat Resilience Workgroup to raise awareness of the issues and dangers of extreme heat to local communities and vulnerable populations.
Arizona typically faces high heat conditions from May through September; however, changes in climate are extending periods of extreme heat from April to October, with temperatures averaging 110 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Phoenix has experienced 31 consecutive days over 110 degrees this summer, shattering the previous record of 18 consecutive days set in 1974. During extreme heat conditions, people without access to shelter frequently lack food, water, or rest, which can cause heat-related illness or death. In addition, some housed people experience heat impacts when they are unable to pay their electric bills, or they have nonfunctioning air conditioning units. Based on the 2022 Heat Deaths Report published by the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, 425 heat-associated deaths were recorded in 2022, resulting in a 25% increase from 2021. However, local cooling center leaders believe the number of heat-impacted individuals to be much higher than reported. The Cooling Center Workgroup convenes a robust network of cooling centers and organizations providing individuals with food, water, and shelter to rest (respite), helping them avoid scorching conditions and staying safe during the hottest portions of the day. Workgroup partners coordinate cooling centers and services, advocacy, and information and best practices sharing. To inform the public on the locations of cooling centers, the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) hosts an interactive online map* identifying cooling centers, respite centers, hydration stations, and donation sites.
Unhoused individuals, seniors, families, and children are the most susceptible and impacted by extreme heat; therefore, some cooling centers specialize in providing care and services to these groups. One of the cooling centers highlighted on the tour was the Justa Center, which exclusively assists senior adults, providing services to over 100-200 people daily. This cooling center offers amenities such as food, water, showers, and access to wrap-around services to help seniors stay cool and avoid heat-related issues. Other cooling centers and support facilities visited in the Phoenix Metro area included*:
First Church United Church of Christ
Burton Barr Central Library
Phoenix Water Distribution Warehouse
Wesley United Methodist Church
Salvation Army Maryvale
Larkspur Christian Church
Following the visit, the Arizona Faith Network coordinated a press conference with local leaders to call attention to challenges related to extreme heat and potential solutions. Speakers included:
Maren Mahoney - Governor Katie Hobbs’ Director of the Office of Resiliency
Rep. Judy Schwiebert - Arizona State Representative, Legislative District 2
Rep. Patty Contreras - Arizona State Representative, Legislative District 12
David Hondula - City of Phoenix Chief Heat Officer
Rev. Katie Sexton-Wood - Executive Director of Arizona Faith Network
Arene Rushdan - Arizona Faith Network’s Cooling Center Organizer
Joanna Brace - Heat Relief Logistics Coordinator Community Service Department City of Glendale
Dean Scheinert - Executive Director of Justa Center
Rev. Susan Valiquette - Pastor at First Church UCC
Call to action
These tours gave Workgroup participants and Arizona legislators an eye-opening experience of how much the homeless and vulnerable populations endure in these harsh surroundings, their requirements, and what they most urgently need. Additionally, it provided a chance for one-on-one interaction with those providing services and those needing relief from the extreme heat.