Living on the Edge: Homeless People’s Struggle During a Heatwave in Phoenix, Arizona.

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Heatwaves can be particularly treacherous for the homeless population, and Phoenix, Arizona, is witnessing its longest streak of scorching temperatures on record. The intense heat poses life-threatening risks to those living on the streets, who face constant exposure to the sweltering conditions. With temperatures surpassing 43.3 degrees Celsius, homeless individuals endure the scorching sun without the refuge of air-conditioned homes. Among them is Stefon James Dewitt Livengood, who resides in a makeshift dwelling in a sprawling tent city. His experience highlights the dire situation faced by many living in encampments.

Without proper shelter, homeless individuals like Livengood are vulnerable to the searing heat. Surface burns from contact with hot surfaces, such as metal, concrete, or asphalt, further compound their struggles. The severity of the situation is evident in the rising number of heat-related deaths within the homeless population in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. Dr. Geoff Comp, an emergency room physician, expresses concern over their constant exposure to the heat, emphasizing the need for water and cooling systems to ensure their safety during the night.

Livengood’s daily life is a stark example of the challenges faced by the homeless during a heatwave. His dwelling, cobbled together from scavenged wood and metal, lacks basic amenities like air conditioning and electricity. Yet, his ingenuity shines through as he utilizes a flat piece of plastic as a makeshift fan to cope with the stifling heat. Living in close proximity to some 800 people in the encampment called “The Zone,” Livengood appreciates the support and care he receives from friends in the community. Nearby agencies provide social services, food, and essential supplies, which contribute to their well-being.

Despite the harsh conditions, a sense of community prevails within the encampment. Organizations like Valley Metro occasionally provide air-conditioned buses, offering respite from the oppressive heat. Other days, Livengood and his friends seek shade in nearby parks, where they can relax and cool off. Voluntary groups distribute essential items like sunscreen, hats, and cooling rags to ensure everyone’s safety and comfort. Amidst the hardships, compassion and camaraderie create a supportive environment for the homeless population.

Livengood’s life journey is marked by adversity, including a childhood filled with trauma and instability. Adopted by a woman named Denise, he faced further challenges after moving to Alaska, where his adoptive mother tragically passed away. He returned to Phoenix, leaving behind the family he started, and now grapples with homelessness and the dangers of extreme heat. Aware of the risks, Livengood advocates for staying hydrated and offers practical advice to others enduring the searing temperatures.

The alarming reality is that last year, homeless individuals constituted around 40% of the heat-associated deaths in Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located. With the ongoing heatwave, officials have confirmed 25 heat-associated deaths and are investigating an additional 249 cases. The situation demands urgent attention and collective efforts to safeguard the most vulnerable members of the community during these dangerous weather conditions.

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