Deadly De-Hydration


root - Posted on 29 October 2006

Houseless folks in Arizona die due to inhuman heat and severe lack of shelter beds

by Michael Woodard/PNN poverty Scholar

"Hey joe… joe… JOOOOOOE!" But he didn't answer back, as I screamed at my friend to wake up, rivers and oceans of sweat crawled down my back. Every stitch of my tattered clothing clung to my overheated body, adhesed by days of Phoenix's inhuman 110 and above summer heat.

Old Black Joe, as he called himself ever since he landed on Arizona's homeless streets several years ago, was an African Descendent elder with a bad story, a sad story and left-behind life, just like all of us have, but in Joe's case, somehow it was sadder, at least to me. Joe was decidedly un-political, and if you tried to talk to him about the plight of the Black man in Amerikka, he would tell you once very politely in his well-enunciated, Southern hotel bell-man trained English, to hush, if that didn't stop you he would tell you again but this time it wouldn’t be so polite.

Of course I learned fast cause I wanted to be Joes' friend, he was full of some of the best Lousiana-Cajun-African folk-tales and it made Summer on the streets of Arizona a little less painful.

But this Summer was different. Instead of a few days each week above 100 degrees, 110, 112, 115, and even the whopping 116 degree weather has rolled on and on for over three weeks. That kind of weather is hard for everyone but the little known story, is the houseless victims who are literally stuck outside, on the sidewalk with little or no access to water, air conditioning or even the much sought after, shade, die. So far this summer the homeless death count is over 14 people

Now, the story is complicated; first it begins with the root causes of homelessness and poverty in Amerikka, leading to the break down of the psyche, the power and the humanity of black people, brown people and poor white people, which leads to mental illness, and substance abuse, but the other equally important issue is the fact that there is a serious shortage of shelter beds in Arizona and in the heat, which in some ways is more dangerous than cold weather for folks living outside, is actually deadly.

According to Bill Manson, development coordinator for Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS), an estimated 8,000 homeless people live in Maricopa County, where Phoenix and its suburbs sit, but only 1,600 shelter beds are available citywide. Add to that, there are a lot of houseless folks, like Joe and up until last week, me, so oppressed, so tortured by their many past lives and spirits, that they refuse the help that is available, i.e., in the depth of some of the worst heat there were government workers, social service agencies and volunteers driving across the city giving out fluids and medical care out and some of the folks they reached refused the help.

I guess for me the wake-up call was the death of Joe, who after I kept yelling at for almost an hour that 115 degree afternoon in July, until I realized he wasn't waking up. Ever again.

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