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Mayor launches heat network helping Phoenix homeless, elderly, disabled

The onset of triple-digit heat combined with the tough economy make it more important than ever for businesses to donate bottled water that will help homeless people, the homebound elderly and the disabled, Mayor Phil Gordon said May 5.

“We still have too many individuals who aren’t aware that the heat will kill.” Gordon said in launching the city’s Heat-Relief Network for 2009. “We need to watch out for each other, need to keep everyone safe.”

The program, which provides hydration, refuge and wellness checks over the summer, was founded in response to the heat-related deaths of 32 people in 2005, most of them homeless or elderly.

The network is comprised of more than 40 private companies, community organizations and churches that collect donations of money and bottled water, provide shelter and educate people on the dangers of heat exposure.

Last year, the program collected and distributed more than 267,400 bottles of water; this year’s goal is 300,000 bottles, Gordon said.

The Rev. Roger Thompson, whose Grace Lutheran Church in downtown Phoenix was one of the first organizations to join, said that the he is thrilled with the program’s continued growth.

“It’s wonderful to have such a small-neighborhood feel in the middle of the country’s fifth-biggest city,” Thompson said. “We’ve all worked together to provide water, shelter and save lives.”

Jim Puza, the director of service extension and disaster services for the Southwest Division of the Salvation Army, said that by setting up hydration stations around the city his organization was able to directly aid more than 13,400 people in 2008.

Puza said that he is encouraged by data that indicates a decline in the number of deaths each year since the effort began.

“We are making a difference, but as we all know, the problem still remains to address vulnerable populations such as homebound elderly,” he said.

Gordon said 26 seniors died last year of heat-related causes. That inspired Beat the Heat training presentations that will be offered this month at the city’s 15 senior centers, educating people about the dangers of heat exposure and the symptoms of heat stroke.

“This is about keeping our community safe,” he said.

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