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Phoenix mayor on how the city is coping with heat above 110 degrees every day of July

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

We are starting this hour in Phoenix, a city that's endured more than three weeks of scorching hot temperatures above 110 degrees.

ERIC BRICKLEY: It's like walking into a air dryer.

SUMMERS: Eric Brickley has been working outside in that heat as a founding member of Feed Phoenix, a group that's been giving ice and water to unsheltered people.

BRICKLEY: It's a sweltering heat, the kind of heat that will burn the bottoms of your feet from working out on the asphalt for too long.

SUMMERS: To his point, during heat like this, the pavement can reach 180 degrees. And as climate change makes heat waves more likely and more extreme, how can cities and people cope? We've dialed up Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego. Welcome.

KATE GALLEGO: Thank you for having me.

SUMMERS: Mayor Gallego, I want to start there with the unhoused population in your city of Phoenix. In the midst of this heat wave, the city has been clearing out a large encampment called The Zone. What are you doing to keep those folks from succumbing to this incredible heat?

GALLEGO: Well, our priority is to get people into indoor shelter. Thanks to our partnership with the Biden administration, we now have hundreds of millions of dollars that we can put towards indoor, air-conditioned shelter. So that is our top priority. We've also done grants to organizations, including Feed Phoenix, to do heat relief work directly. We know that many of our faith organizations and nonprofits can come up with really innovative solutions. Sometimes, it's gel towels that help cool people who choose to be outside. And sometimes, it's the more than 4,000 cases of water that we have deployed. We have a robust network of cooling centers, about 60 through - 62 in our region. And those can be important. But my goal would be to get people inside in air-conditioned environments.

SUMMERS: Right. And, of course, it's not just unhoused people who are affected by the punishing levels of heat that your city is seeing. It's everyone and particularly people who work outside. I'm thinking of construction workers who are particularly vulnerable during extreme heat events. What is the city doing to make sure workers like those are safe right now?

GALLEGO: One of the things that we are going to mark for the first time this Thursday is the city is investing in container storage housing, which can be built indoors in air-conditioned environments and then installed on site using a crane. So it is much less exposure for our construction workers. And we're hopeful that with making more of the process indoors, they will be safer and better off. Two of our members of our congressional delegations, Congressmen Grijalva and Gallego, have also introduced heat-related health legislation so that the federal government can have more tools to help us in that area. And then we're working to get federal heat designated as an eligible disaster. So perhaps the federal government can come in the way they do with snowstorms and five other types of storms and in the most extreme cases, help us.

SUMMERS: There have been 18 confirmed heat-related deaths this year in your county, and many of them were among the elderly. How do you think you can get that number down even further while at the same time, we're in a situation where heat waves are getting worse, as well as more common due to the effects of climate change?

GALLEGO: We have a new program called Cool Callers where residents can register themselves or a loved one, including an older adult, and we will check on folks, see if they need any kind of aid. We have a really great group of volunteers who have stepped up, who just care about those who are most vulnerable to help with that program. And we would welcome new registrations if anyone is listening and wants to be involved in that. We are also investing in new facilities like hotels to housing, specifically targeting older adults. We learn more every year, including that we need to rethink our building materials.

SUMMERS: I mean, looking at the forecast, there are some scattered storms in the coming days. Does that mean that perhaps you all might see at least a temporary reprieve from these scorching temperatures?

GALLEGO: We did get a little bit of rain in the last week. And some of my family that lives in Michigan was laughing at me 'cause I was excited it was in the 80s.

SUMMERS: We've been talking with Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego. Thanks so much.

GALLEGO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Alejandra Marquez Janse
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.