Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Homelessness and the heat

By Meghan Brannon-Reese, Alyssa Carnley and Kim Isbell

These are the people you see sleeping in the shade of trees. These are the people whose unpleasant smell you discretely move away from. These are the people who most simply ignore.

These are the people who depend on facilities like the Central Arizona Shelter Services. The choice is life or death.

The CASS campus originated four years ago from a 25-year-old program. It was built because of one summer’s shocking death rate of 40 people due to the heat alone.

In the four years since its beginning, the CASS campus has become Arizona’s largest shelter and supportive service center for homeless individuals, serving an average of 5,000 men, women and children annually.

Tony Singleton, a man who once slept outside near the CASS building he now works in, tells his story of crack addiction and being found by an ASU student one summer day. This 21-year-old student “was like my angel,” Singleton says.

Many of the people roaming the CASS campus face the same dilemmas Singleton once dealt with every day. They are downtrodden and from all walks of life; they find themselves in need of hydration and shade to brave the searing Arizona heat.

CASS Program Director, Laura Ditroia, says the campus admits approximately 1,300 people a day.

Ditroia holds heat relief meetings to address current conditions, prevention and future planning necessary for more relief efforts.

In addition to the CASS campus, many of the homeless seek shelter in the county library, under park benches and in the shade created by structures and signs.

Hydration is the biggest concern. Water is a constant sight on and around the campus, given out for free and as needed.

Rudolph Rodriguez came to CASS because he is currently unemployed and homeless. He is from Colorado and looking for work.

Rodriguez says water is not hard to come by in the city because most businesses will offer him courtesy cups and water.

In order to seek shelter from the heat Rodriguez says the best places to go are, “downtown to the library, to the park, getting under trees.” Most importantly though, “Everybody is drinking a lot of water.”

Reuben is yet another CASS recipient. Reuben is employed but has no home. CASS provides water, shelter, and even dental and health services. Something Reuben would not have otherwise.

Reuben works in the tops of palm trees, thinning them out so they form a spout top.

“It’s not hot on the ground, but when you climb up under the umbrella of the palm tree, there is no air. You can’t breathe up there; you have to get an opening real quick, or you can suffocate.”

When asked what Reuben does to stay cool, he says, “I wet myself down and go to the next tree.


Public health workers report to the main CASS campus building.
(Photo by Meghan Brannon-Reese)

A homeless woman seeks shade from the afternoon sun at a downtown park near the ASU campus.

(Photo by Megan Brannon-Reese)

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