Chandler offers unhoused and vulnerable residents relief from summer heat

July 2, 2024
| by:
Communications and Public Affairs

As the summer temperatures in the southwest soar, Chandler’s efforts to support its most vulnerable populations come into sharp focus. Through the Neighborhood Resources Department, Chandler has implemented a robust set of initiatives aimed at helping both the unhoused and residents struggling with inadequate cooling resources. These programs not only provide immediate relief, but also strive to create pathways to long-term stability and self-sufficiency.

According to Maricopa County’s Department of Public Health, in 2023 there were 645 heat-related deaths in the county, with 14 of those occurring in Chandler. Nearly half of these heat-related deaths were among people experiencing homelessness. Approximately one in four heat-related deaths occurred indoors, with 95% of those among individuals age 50 years or older, and most were living independently. These indoor deaths occurred in uncooled environments; however, in most cases, an A/C unit was present but non-functioning.

The backbone of Chandler’s approach to reducing homelessness is the Chandler Connect program, led by Homeless Programs Supervisor Misty Gustafson. This outreach initiative engages with individuals experiencing homelessness throughout the year, but efforts intensify in the summer. "My team drives around looking for people who may be at risk. We check bus stops, parks, alleyways, retail centers and other spots we are familiar with. Others come to our attention through referrals from hospitals, schools, businesses, and even other city departments," Gustafson explained.

“You can imagine what it’s like to experience homelessness, especially this time of year. You are outside in the miserable heat for weeks and weeks, going many days without being able to shower or wear clean clothes. So, some people are embarrassed to ask for help," Gustafson said. To address this reluctance, the community navigators take city services directly to the streets. Armed with coolers full of water, Gatorade, snacks, and hygiene products like sunscreen, baby wipes and deodorant, the navigators inform people about the city’s heat relief locations and other free resources.

From May through September, the city has nine cooling centers and one respite center, most at city facilities and open during normal business hours. "Cooling centers are critical during the hottest times, offering a place to sit indoors with air conditioning, drink free water, and rest," said Jeff Christian, community resources specialist for the city. Every library is a cooling center, as are the Downtown Community Center, the Tumbleweed Recreation Center, and the Chandler Nature Center at Veterans Oasis Park. A cooling center is also available at AZCEND, a downtown nonprofit that helps individuals and families struggling with hunger, poverty and homelessness.

The Respite Center is located at the Salvation Army Center, 85 E. Saragosa, and is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. This center is supported by Chandler and Salvation Army staff and offers more comprehensive services, including cots for rest, showers, meals, water, TV, Wi-Fi, laundry service and even accommodations for pets.

Helping Hand

“We focus a lot on people experiencing homelessness because they're outside in the elements more, but our heat relief programs are for all residents who are facing a heat emergency,” Christian said. “We have residents who are seniors or who have low income who may find themselves without an adequate cooling system, for whatever reason, and we want them to know that they can go to any of our cooling or respite centers and get a reprieve from the heat and access to additional services, such as utility assistance and A/C repair.”

Chandler partners with Maricopa County Public Health on many of these services, including offering free transportation to those who need to visit a cooling or respite center. Residents can call 2-1-1, Arizona's information and referral service, or go online to to request a ride. “We are ready for you, and we want you to be safe.” Christian added, “Come to our cooling centers or to the respite center so you can cool off and get refreshed a little bit. You don’t have to face the summer heat on your own.”

The community plays a crucial role in supporting these efforts through donations of water, snacks, hygiene kits and more. Volunteers are also welcome to help spread awareness about the heat relief programs and distribute water and brochures. To volunteer or donate items call 480-782-4349 or email

As the city continues to prioritize the well-being of all its residents, the summer heat relief programs remain a critical component of Chandler’s public health and safety strategy. “I feel very privileged to work at a place like the City of Chandler that doesn’t ignore the homelessness issue or the people. Whether you have a home or you're unhoused, everyone is still a resident of Chandler. We treat everyone equally, with love and care. I'm very grateful that in Chandler we prioritize that as an organization,” Gustafson said.

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This article also was featured in the SanTan Sun News.