Heat-related deaths at a historical high in Maricopa County
Despite Maricopa County directing more money than ever before to heat mitigation efforts in 2023, this year’s heat-related death toll will be the highest in history.
Unprecedented summer temperatures, with more days above 110 degrees than any previous summer, mixed with an acute homelessness crisis, are just some of the reasons Maricopa County is experiencing this all-time high.
Maricopa County has confirmed 202 deaths so far this year, while 356 more deaths remain under investigation. Those numbers are about 35% higher than they were at the same point last year.
Stacey Champion, a long-time community advocate, joined Arizona Horizon to discuss the issue.
Champion confirmed these are record numbers. Last year, Maricopa County saw 425 heat-related deaths.
“These numbers are always probably an undercount to some extent,” Champion said. “And remember, we’re just talking about Maricopa County.”
This summer was one of the hottest in North America, which Champion agreed played a role in the number of heat deaths. However, Maricopa County has one of the highest rates of evictions, a large homeless population, and many people living on fixed incomes.
“There’s just kind of a creation of the perfect storm of what is truly a public health crisis that everyone needs to get on board with coming up with some solutions,” Champion said.
The unhoused population accounts for 44% of total deaths, a number unsurprising to Champion. Arizona has a lot of people who are impacted by heat, including outdoor workers, those without cars, and unhoused people.
“These are deadly temperatures,” Champion said. “Heat is a silent killer.” An estimated 25% of Maricopa County’s heat deaths occurred indoors, many being older people.
“A lot of these older folks, their A.C. breaks, and they can’t afford to get it fixed,” Champion said. “We don’t have any overnight cooling centers here. If you can’t afford to go to a hotel, or you don’t have family here, what do you do?”
Champion said Maricopa County needs to do a better job studying the data and taking solutions to where people are located in our communities.
“If we don’t do a better job meeting people where we’re at, we’re going to keep seeing an increase,” Champion said. “I hate being right, but I called it at the beginning of the year because I did not see enough proactive solutions happening quickly enough.”