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Record-setting heat in Phoenix has led to concerns about future conditions


Residents of Phoenix, Ariz., are used to the heat, but recent temperatures have really been pushing it. The desert city recently set a new record - 31 straight days with temperatures over 110 degrees. Local governments and nonprofits have provided relief. But with more heat waves expected in the future, some in Phoenix say those efforts aren't sustainable. Kirsten Dorman with member station KJZZ reports.

KIRSTEN DORMAN, BYLINE: At this hydration station in a Salvation Army parking lot in Phoenix, volunteer Manny Guzman has coolers full of ice water on offer to anyone who needs one.

MANNY GUZMAN: Right here, you know, it's covered in ice, ready to pass.

DORMAN: This site is one of more than 200 in the valley that offer water or places to hang out in air conditioning for a few hours. David Hondula, the director of Phoenix's Office of Heat Response and Mitigation, helps coordinate this heat relief network. He says it offers a lot of help.

DAVID HONDULA: Right now, when we look at where the network has the most capacity, that's in the 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. window. In the city of Phoenix, that is when 80% of the 911 calls related to heat occur.

DORMAN: Hondula says organizations in the network are doing what they can, but keeping heat relief sites open on weekends is a challenge. They're trying to figure out how to extend hours into the morning and night.

MELISSA GUARDARO: It's not only the unhoused that we need to be aware of.

DORMAN: Melissa Guardaro is part of coordinating the network too.

GUARDARO: It's also people who have shelter but are faced with difficult choices of whether to pay for air conditioning or pay for their rent or medical services or their other costs along the way.

DORMAN: Guardaro teaches at Arizona State University's School of Sustainability.

GUARDARO: Any gap that we have in our infrastructure becomes very apparent when people, all of a sudden, cannot get to their job because it's just too hot to walk to their transit node, or they're working outdoors and they're feeling ill from the day before.

DORMAN: Maricopa County has replaced roughly 500 air conditioning units for free for low-income households vulnerable to the heat. It plans to replace five to six hundred more in the coming months. And this summer, the county is spending $2.4 million on heat relief just for the homeless. Cities, including Phoenix, and area nonprofits are contributing too.

KATIE SEXTON-WOOD: We are so grateful for the funding that came out of Maricopa County with our city partners this year.

DORMAN: Reverend Katie Sexton-Wood is with the Arizona Faith Network, which operates cooling stations and respite centers. She's worried about longer-term solutions.

SEXTON-WOOD: There is no sustainable funding for this work throughout the city on a public level or on a private level with nonprofits. So that means we run out of funding, we run out of space, and we run out of people predominantly for funding on the nonprofit side.

DORMAN: Judy Schwiebert represents Phoenix's North Valley in the state legislature.

JUDY SCHWIEBERT: I don't think that our state government is stepping up the way we need to step up in order to provide a sustainable structure for making sure that folks are taken care of.

DORMAN: Schwiebert and at least one other Democrat in Arizona's state House are calling on Congress to pass a bill that would add extreme heat to the federal list of what qualifies as a major disaster event. Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego, also a Democrat, introduced a bill to do that in June. It has one Republican co-sponsor, but has seen no action since being referred to a subcommittee June 12.

For NPR News, I'm Kirsten Dorman in Phoenix. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kirsten Dorman