PHOENIX (HPD) — This summer saw the highest number of heat-related deaths on record in Arizona’s largest county, against a backdrop of high homelessness. Public health statistics released this week confirmed a record 359 such deaths within days of the six-month hot season ending.
The increase in deaths raises questions about how best to protect vulnerable people not only in the desert Southwest, where temperatures regularly exceed 99 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius), but also in more temperate areas where climate change has caused more intense, frequent and lasting heat waves.
According to the National Weather Service, the highest temperature this year at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport was 115 °F (46.1 °C) on July 11, reaching 114 °F (45.5 °C). ) on June 11 as well as July 16 and 22.
This year’s heat-related deaths in Maricopa County have surpassed the confirmed 339 from 2021, and the final number could be even higher as another 91 deaths are still under investigation.
The county has more than a decade of experience tracking deaths from high temperatures, but comparable numbers are hard to come by in other areas, such as the Northwest, where intense heat waves have only been recorded in recent years.
In California, based on a study based on emergency room admissions, researchers have found that homeless people, especially those with mental illness, were more likely to be hospitalized during extreme heat, compared to those who were homeless .
Nearly 80% of heat-related deaths in Maricopa County this year occurred outdoors, but preliminary reports on this year’s high temperatures did not have an estimate of how many were homeless and not people who were working or were abroad for other reasons.
The increase comes amid a rise in the number of people living on the streets in the Phoenix metro area, where hundreds of individuals are sleeping in tents in the city center amid rising rent prices and the evictions.
“With so many people homeless, it makes sense that there are more deaths in the heat,” said Amy Schwabenlender, executive director of the Human Services Campus in downtown Phoenix, which brings together agencies that serve the homeless.
Associated Press writer Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.