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Shipping containers from Arizona's border wall are now being used as cooling centers

A solar-powered shipping container serves as a cooling center on 19th Avenue in downtown Phoenix.
Katherine Davis-Young/KJZZ
A solar-powered shipping container serves as a cooling center on 19th Avenue in downtown Phoenix. 

After a record number of heat-related deaths last year, the state government is piloting some new heat relief programs this summer. Among the new efforts are a few mobile cooling centers built from shipping containers that had been briefly used to block gaps in Arizona’s border wall.

In total, the state will distribute 18 repurposed shipping containers to tribes, municipalities, and Department of Corrections sites. The units are solar-powered, air conditioned and can fit about 15 people at a time.

Two of the container cooling centers opened doors earlier this month near the state Capitol.

Arene Rushdan is community resilience program manager with the Arizona Faith Network, which is staffing those two sites. She said amid hot temperatures these past few weeks, a lot of people have passed through.

“Initially, getting the word out, it was maybe 10 to 15 a day, and now it definitely has tripled,” Rushdan told KJZZ News. “The other day I came in and all these chairs were taken.”

Visitors to the shipping container cooling centers can stay in the air conditioning for two hours or more, depending on demand. Visitors are offered water and snacks.
Katherine Davis-Young/KJZZ
Visitors to the shipping container cooling centers can stay in the air conditioning for two hours or more, depending on demand. Visitors are offered water and snacks. 

Adrien Alvarado, who has been living on the streets, has been cooling off in one of the containers regularly.

“The heat’s just, it’s unbearable sometimes,” Alvarado said. “I think these things are a good idea.”

The downtown sites are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. They have porta-potties and lockers. Visitors can get water and a snack. Staffers also assess visitors for heat distress and can refer them to homelessness organizations or other services. .

“We’re connected with other community resources, because I always tell them, ‘it’s good to see you, but I don’t want to see you next year,’” Rushdan said.

Former Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, in 2022 arranged for thousands of shipping containers to fill gaps in the wall along Arizona’s southern border. But after a federal lawsuit, Ducey agreed to remove the containers. Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, criticized the shipping container plan as a political stunt.

The concept of turning some of the containers into mobile cooling sites was outlined in the state’sfirst-ever Extreme Heat Preparedness Plan, released by the Hobbs administration earlier this year. The state used $2 million in federal funding to retrofit the containers.

A shipping container cooling center is open for visitors on Jefferson Street in downtown Phoenix. The container was once stacked along Arizona's border wall, but this year it was repurposed as part of the state's heat relief efforts.
Katherine Davis-Young/KJZZ
A shipping container cooling center is open for visitors on Jefferson Street in downtown Phoenix. The container was once stacked along Arizona's border wall, but this year it was repurposed as part of the state's heat relief efforts. 
Latest on Arizona heat

Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent reporting on a variety of issues, including public health and climate change.