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06-2022

Rising roads: Hundreds of homeless died in the scorching heat

By Anita Snow – The Associated Press

PHOENIX ( Associated Press) – Hundreds of blue, green and brown tents in downtown Phoenix stand under the sun’s blazing rays, dusty sidewalks lined with jumbled canvas and plastic. Here, in America’s largest city, thousands of homeless people are scorched as summer temperatures hit triple digits.

Amid pandemic-era evictions and soaring rents, the suffocating tent city has thrown hundreds more people into the burning streets, which cool down when temperatures peak at midnight. A heat wave earlier this month brought temperatures up to 114 degrees (45.5 Celsius) – and that’s only June. Last year the maximum temperature reached 118 degrees (47.7 Celsius).

“During the summer, it’s very hard to find a place at night that’s close enough to sleep without the police,” said Chris Medlock, a homeless Phoenix man known as “T-Bone,” who Carries everything. Bedding in a small bag and often in a park or nearby desert to avoid crowds.

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Medlock said in a dining room, “If a kind soul can place on his sofa indoors, there probably will be more.” Homeless people can get some shade and free food.

Extreme heat causes more weather-related deaths in the United States than hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes do.

Across the country, heat contributes to about 1,500 deaths annually, and advocates estimate that half of those people are homeless.

Global warming is causing temperatures to rise almost everywhere, coupled with severe droughts in some places, creating more intense, frequent and longer heat waves. The past few summers have been the hottest on record.

In counties, including Phoenix, at least 130 homeless people were among 339 individuals who died of heat-related causes in 2021.

“If 130 homeless people were dying any other way, it would be considered a mass casualty event,” said Christie L. Ebi, professor of global health at the University of Washington.

It’s a problem that has spread across the United States, and now, with rising global temperatures, only places like Phoenix pose no threat of heat.

This summer is expected to bring higher-than-normal temperatures across most land areas around the world, according to a seasonal map created by climatologists volunteering for the International Research Institute at Columbia University.

Last summer, a heat wave ravaged the temperate US Northwest in general and residents of Seattle were sleeping on their yards and terraces, or fled to hotels with air-conditioning. Across the state, several people are believed to have died outside homelessness, including one who fell behind a gas station.

Officials in Oregon opened 24-hour cooling centers for the first time. Volunteer teams provided water and popsicles to homeless camps on the outskirts of Portland.

A quick scientific analysis concluded that last year’s Pacific Northwest heat wave would have been nearly impossible without human-caused climate change adding several degrees and knocking the previous record down.

Even Boston is exploring ways to protect diverse neighborhoods like its Chinatown, where population density and few shady trees help raise temperatures by as much as 106 degrees (41 Celsius) on hot summer days. The city plans strategies such as increasing tree canopies and other types of shade, using cooler materials for roofs, and expanding its network of cooling centers during heat waves.

This is not just America’s problem. An Associated Press analysis last year of a dataset published by Columbia University’s Climate School found that exposure to extreme heat has tripled and now affects nearly a quarter of the world’s population.

This spring, an extreme heat wave gripped much of Pakistan and India, where homelessness due to discrimination and inadequate housing is widespread. The high in Jacobabad, Pakistan, near the border with India, was recorded at 122 °C (50 °C) in May.

Dr. Dilip Mavalankar, head of the Indian Institute of Public Health in the western Indian city of Gandhinagar, said it is unknown how many people in the country are exposed to heat due to poor reporting.

Summer cooling centers for the homeless, elderly and other vulnerable populations have been opened in many European countries every summer since a 2003 heat wave killed 70,000 people across Europe.

Emergency service workers on bicycles patrol the streets of Madrid, distributing ice packs and water in the warmer months. Still, about 1,300 people, most of them elderly, continue to die each summer in Spain because of increased health complications from overheating.

Spain and southern France experienced unusually hot weather in mid-June last week, with temperatures reaching as high as 104 degrees (40 Celsius) in some areas.

David Hondula, Phoenix’s chief climate scientist New office for heat quenchingsays that with such extreme weather now being seen around the world, more solutions are needed to protect vulnerable people, especially homeless people, who are nearly 200 times more likely to be sheltered than individuals. are more likely to die from causes related to overheating.

“As temperatures continue to rise in the US and around the world, cities such as Seattle, Minneapolis, New York or Kansas City that do not have the experience or infrastructure to deal with the heat must also adjust.”

In Phoenix, officials and advocates hope a vacant building recently converted into a 200-bed shelter for the homeless will help save lives this summer.

34-year-old Mac Mays was among the first to enter.

“It can get rough. I live in shelters or go anywhere I can find it,” said Mays, who has been homeless since she was a teenager. “Here, I can really relax, without a job. I can work on the application, stay out of the heat.”

In Las Vegas, teams deliver bottled water to homeless people living inside a network of underground storm drains around the county and under the Las Vegas Strip.

Ahmedabad, India, population 8.4 million, was the first South Asian city to prepare a summer action plan in 2013.

Through their alert system, non-government groups reach out to vulnerable people and send text messages to mobile phones. Water tankers are sent to slums, while bus stops, temples and libraries become shelters for people to escape the scorching rays.

Still there is a plethora of deaths.

Kimberly Rae Haws, a 62-year-old homeless woman, was severely burned in October 2020 while a burning phoenix spread for an unknown amount of time on the blacktop. The cause of his later death was never investigated.

A young man named Twitch died from exposure to heat as he sat on a curb near Phoenix Soup Kitchen one weekend in 2018.

“He was supposed to move into permanent residence next Monday,” said Jim Baker, who oversees the dining room for the St. Vincent de Paul charity. “His mother was devastated.”

Many such deaths are never confirmed as heat-related and always go unnoticed because of the stigma of homelessness and lack of family connection.

When a 62-year-old mentally ill woman named Shawna Wright died on a hot street in Salt Lake City last summer, her death was discovered after her family published an obituary saying that the system records But failed to protect him during the hottest July. When the temperature reached three digits.

Her sister, Tricia Wright, said making it easier for the homeless to find permanent housing would go a long way toward protecting them from extreme summer temperatures.

Tricia Wright said of her sister, “We always thought she was tough, that she could get over it. But nobody’s tough enough to have that kind of heat.”

Associated Press science writer Anirudh Ghoshal in New Delhi and Associated Press writer Frances D’Amilio in Rome and Ciaran Giles in Madrid contributed to this report.

Follow Snow on Twitter: https://twitter.com/asnowreports

Read more about Associated Press’s climate coverage at http://www.apnews.com/Climate

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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