May 22, 2023 - Health

400 promised homeless shelter beds aren't ready for summer heat

The lot where a homeless shelter will eventually be constructed. Photo: Jessica Boehm/Axios

More than 400 promised shelter beds are not ready to shield unhoused people from the Phoenix heat this summer.

Why it matters: Heat kills. Last year, 178 people experiencing homelessness died of heat-associated causes.

  • The Maricopa County medical examiner's office recorded in April alone 11 suspected heat deaths, including that of an unhoused 59-year-old man found dead at a bus stop in north Phoenix.

Meanwhile, Phoenix is clearing its largest homeless encampment this summer and does not currently have enough indoor options to offer to displaced people.

State of play: A planned 250-person homeless campus at 22nd Avenue and Lower Buckeye Road was supposed to open "ahead of the 2023 heat season," staff told the city council last October.

  • It will consist of several "sprung structures," which a staff report explained is "a more rapid and cost-effective way to shelter individuals than a traditional building." It will also have about 80 private shelter rooms outfitted in shipping containers.
  • The campus will also have a 14,000-square-foot navigation center, a dog-washing room, a basketball court, horseshoe pits and RV parking.

Reality check: We stopped by last week. It's just a dirt lot.

What's happening: Phoenix Homeless Solutions director Rachel Milne told Axios that the city decided to switch sites earlier this year, causing the initial delay. Now, construction backups and supply chain issues are pushing the open date even further.

  • She told us she's hopeful it will open by year's end.

Separately, Phoenix and the Arizona Department of Housing provided federal pandemic relief funds to Central Arizona Shelter Services in 2021 to purchase and convert the old Phoenix Inn into a shelter for 170 unhoused senior citizens

  • At an event last week, Phoenix Neighborhood Services director Spencer Self said the hotel project fell behind because of unexpected flooding, mold and elevator issues. Construction is just now beginning and while 40 beds may be available by July, the full project won't be completed for another year.

What they're saying: "We're disappointed that it's not coming up as quickly as we hoped," Milne said of the issues at the 22nd Avenue shelter site.

What they're planning: Milne added that the city is seeking temporary options to lessen the impacts of the delays, including renting 50 hotel rooms starting next Monday.

  • Milne said she hopes to be able to rent more rooms in June.

What we're watching: Mayor Kate Gallego sent a letter to FEMA in April asking the agency to add extreme heat to its list of Declared Disasters, which would unlock federal money for emergency shelter for scorching temperatures.

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