AZ Faith Leaders Call for Better Heat Response
Thursday, July 27, 2023
Intense heat is nothing new for Arizona summers, but the state has been enduring a record heat wave for a number of weeks.
The Arizona Faith Network brought together state and local leaders to bring attention to the issue, and to address the need for a lasting solution.
Rev. Katie Sexton-Wood, the network's executive director, said her group helps run heat-relief respite centers at houses of worship across Maricopa County. Simply put, she said these facilities are saving lives in Arizona.
According to Maricopa County's weekly heat report, 18 people have died from heat-related deaths so far this year, and 69 other deaths are still being investigated.
"We do not practice discrimination in our cooling centers," said Sexton-Wood, "and, in fact, 80% of our population that come into these centers are people who are experiencing homelessness."
Sexton-Wood said AFN has two policy asks. First, funding to establish what she called a "consistent and sustainable funding source" to support these centers who provide life-saving services.
Second, she said they're asking for standard requirements to be implemented to establish clear guidelines for centers to address the needs of heat-vulnerable populations.
State Rep. Patty Contreras - D-Phoenix - was among leaders who toured several Maricopa County cooling centers to educate and learn more about the initiatives to assist those impacted by the extreme heat.
Contreras called for more cooling centers, but also stood with other policy makers in calling for immediate passage of the Extreme Heat Emergency Act - which would add extreme heat to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's list of major disasters.
"This would allow Gov. (Katie) Hobbs to declare this unprecedented heat a major disaster," said Contreras, "and provide funding to help mitigate this emergency."
Contreras recommended Arizonans check in on vulnerable individuals - such as seniors, those with disabilities, and those who do not have access to air conditioning - as well as family and friends during the intense heat wave being felt across the state.
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