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Homeless outreach group uses Phoenix funding for mobile cooling van

Outreach group AZ Hugs for the Houseless has created a mobile cooling van to prevent heat-related deaths for those experiencing homelessness, using funding from the city of Phoenix.

The funding, nearly $9,000, came from the budget of city Councilmember Yassamin Ansari, who called the van a “thoughtful idea” that will save lives.

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the founder of Arizona Jews for Justice, which oversees Hugs for the Houseless. He says in the first few days of operation, the van has been a welcome sight for those in the heat.

“Being in the 105, 110, what's going to be 115, soon, without any relief is just soul crushing, and physically damaging. And so, there's just a deep sense of relief,” said Yanklowitz.

The money went towards renovating the van of Hugs founder Austin Davis. He says the idea for the van came from talking to people who couldn’t get to established cooling centers.

“There are these cooling centers, and the cooling centers provide an incredible support for people who can get there. But, one thing that I learned through talking to people and just seeing, you know, is that a lot of people can't travel a mile, or two miles, or five miles to get to a cooling center,” said Davis.

Davis says the van is a resource in itself, but it’s also a good place for him to understand what those without housing need on an individual basis.

“I think that, if the resources are there, let's bring our community together for this common goal. Let's use what we have, let's learn from those experiencing homelessness, see what the direct need is, and let's try to address it,” said Davis.

Yanklowitz says his end goal, however lofty, is to make sure no one has to die in the streets.

“There are, of course, natural causes. But, no one should be dying of heat. No one should be dying of dehydration. No one should be dying because they don't have their prescription medicine. The goal is to scale this up to the level where we can meet every need there is out there,” said Yanklowitz.

Davis says the van visits multiple encampments every day, and has fans and misters, a canopy that provides shade, folding chairs for people to rest in, and waters and cold towels to distribute.

Vaughan Jones is the weekend reporter for KJZZ, and a graduate of ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism, with a minor in music. As a Phoenix native, Jones’s dream is to serve his community by covering important stories in the metropolitan area.He spent two years as music director at Blaze Radio, ASU’s student-run radio station. His passion for radio stems from joining Blaze his freshman year as a DJ.When he is not working, Jones can be found writing music with his band, playing video games with his friends, or watching his favorite Phoenix-area sports teams.