Heat Relief for the Homeless in Full Swing Weeks Before Massive Re-Housing Effort Set to Begin

As temperatures in Maricopa County reach record-setting highs, efforts to prevent heat-related injuries or deaths among the homeless population are in overdrive.

Every summer, between 30 to 40 people die from exposure across the state, and the homeless are particularly vulnerable.

Laura DiTroia, director of programming at the Lodestar Day Resource Center, says there are two core components to the efforts — resources and outreach — and that the team at the Human Services Campus in downtown Phoenix works on doing both.

The campus serves as the main weather-relief station, providing free bottles of water and ample indoor, air-conditioned spaces, while mobile outreach teams check more frequently on those living in homeless camps or on the streets around the county. The outreach teams regularly distribute water and “hygiene kits” – plastic baggies filled with single-use toiletries — but during the hot summer months, they stock their vans with extra water, and make it a point to discuss heat safety and health-related tips.

The campus goes through thousands of gallons of bottled water, and relies entirely on donations. Earlier this month, Sundt Construction Inc., kicked off the annual water drive by delivering 250,000 bottles of water. “It was a lot of pallets,” DiTroia says. Normally this amount of water would last through September, but with the LDRC operating as an overnight shelter, there’s a good chance the water supply will deplete more quickly.

Some of the collected water is given to other community groups and organizations who do work with the homeless, but a lot of it is wasted. There will always be people who take a few sips, and toss the rest of the bottle. It's a giant waste, and campus employees know it, but, as the saying goes, you have to choose your battles.

“We always accept donated water,” DiTroia, “however [coordinating] the transportation to pick it up is a challenge.”

In years past, community and faith-based groups have gotten around this problem by either bringing cases of water to the campus, or by raising money for a Costco gift card — the store will deliver the water shipment right to the campus. (A person can also write a check to the LDRC and tag it specifically for heat-relief efforts and/or water, DiTroia says.)

But the heat relief effort extends beyond water and air-conditioning during the summer months, as the campus needs extra travel-size shampoos and soaps, sunscreen, hats, sunglasses — “and even those little bootie foot things for dogs” so they don’t hurt their paws on hot concrete. If you want to help, DiTroia suggests hitting up the $1 section of pharmacies or wholesale stores. (Again, you can write a check to LDRC and specify where you want the money to go, or grab a few of your friends and purchase a gift card to a store like Target or Walmart.)

Beginning on July 1, $2.5 million from the state, county, local cities, and private non-profit groups will start going to what is arguably the largest rapid re-housing effort ever undertaken in Maricopa County.

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The emergency heat relief efforts will continue as long as there is a weather advisory, but the team at the Human Services Campus is doing much more than just keeping people hydrated and safe. DiTroia and others at the LDRC are pouring through data from the first month of operating their temporary emergency shelter in preparation for a massive re-housing effort set to begin next month.

Beginning on May 15, the LDRC day room and St. Vincent de Paul dining room opened as an indoor overnight alternative to the recently shuttered Men’s Overflow Shelter and adjacent East Lot parking lot, and it has been an overall success with very few problematic incidents. (Staff confiscate a crack pipe or hypodermic needle every so often, DiTroia says, but there has been much less violence and chaos than occurred in the East Lot, and far fewer incidents requiring a call to the police.)

In the first 30 days, the shelter averaged about 350 people each night, but accommodated 1,153 people in total. Seventeen percent of clients (199 people) are considered chronically homeless. People are considered chronically homeless if they have been continuously homeless for a year or more or have had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years. Twenty-five percent said they were homeless for economic reasons.

It’s this type of data that can really help the team target their efforts, explains DiTroia. (Homeless Shelter best practices maintain that the faster you can move people through the system, the better off they will be.)

Twelve percent of clients reported mental health problems, and 8 percent had a physical disability.

Four percent struggle with alcohol abuse, and 5 percent with other drugs.

Seventy-three percent of clients were male, 12 percent were veterans, and 62 percent identified as white.

But perhaps some of the most important data collected has to do with housing eligibility. Beginning on July 1, $2.5 million from the state, county, local cities, and private non-profit groups will start going to what is arguably the largest rapid re-housing effort ever undertaken in Maricopa County. According to the initial data collected by LDRC staff, 47 percent of clients are likely to qualify for rapid re-housing, 15 percent will require permanent supportive housing, 24 percent only need general assistance — help with first month’s rent or with finding a job. (Fourteen percent of clients were not assessed.)

This data is based on an abbreviated housing assessment tool, DiTroia says, but staff will get a much better idea of what people need and what types of housing they will qualify for after clients take the full assessment.

But until this money kicks in, the hundreds of men and women across the county who have no place to call home are extra-vulnerable.

Wanna help out? Contact Laura DiTroia at the LDRC ([email protected]) for more information about different ways you can volunteer or donate supplies.

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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser