How charities are helping the Southwest cope with scorching heat

Faith groups, animal shelters, and community activists are working overtime in the areas of the southwestern US suffering most from the heat.

Chris Carlson/AP
Maria Wieser of Italy takes a drink of water while sightseeing in Death Valley National Park in 2013.

The heat wave broiling much of the southwestern US won't let up, and it's brought a whole host of concerns with it. Some charities and volunteer groups are responding with lively campaigns to serve people who are most endangered by soaring temperatures.

Faith groups and aid organizations in cities across the region have set up "cool zones" for the homeless and senior citizens – and in many cases, people without suitable home cooling systems – to stay safe during the heat. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a Phoenix-based Catholic charity, has designed its dining centers as emergency heat-relief shelters. It has also delivered thousands of meals, as well as vouchers for utility payments and other housing assistance to area families, according to the Catholic News Service.

Shannon Clancy, chief philanthropy officer for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix, told CNS that charities in the area began doing outreach after 30 people died during heat waves in 2005. "This is our winter," she said. "Out West when the heat turns up, the need actually increases."

In San Diego, community activists were set to erect a temporary shelter giving out ice, water, and a place to rest in the shade for the weekend, a San Diego station reported on Saturday. Local mayoral candidate Lori Saldana said many of the city's homeless had lost their tents and personal belongings in recent police sweeps.

Animal shelters have also made special efforts as they brave the heat. One Arizona shelter located in Pinetop-Lakeside, east of Phoenix, was forced to evacuate to a nearby town as the Cedar Fire continued to spread across the southeastern part of the state, a local news channel reported. Staff and volunteers kept animals cool with makeshift cooling units and pools set up nearby, according to the shelter's Facebook page.

Four people have died as of Tuesday, all of them hikers who ventured out in the sweltering conditions.  Authorities are urging people to stay indoors and especially avoid exercising outside for as long as the heat wave lasts.

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