Yes, it's summer, and yes, it's best to stay indoors and stay hydrated. But with numerous heat warnings of late, Mesa park rangers are turning their attention to a segment of the population that doesn't have easy access to the basics most others take for granted.
For the last few weeks, John Goodie and three other Mesa park rangers have been handing out cold water bottles to the homeless they see routinely in the city parks.
The rangers carry ice chests in their trucks and pass water out to people who are "almost dead from dehydration," Goodie said.
They pick up the water that's been donated for the homeless and poor at MesaCAN, a local human services agency.
Mesa is also a partner in the annual "hydration donation campaign" run across Maricopa County to prevent heat-related deaths. Mesa teams up with local nonprofits, including Paz de Cristo and A New Leaf-East Valley Men's Center, to provide water to the homeless. Last year, the Mesa campaign netted 62,000 water bottles through donations.
The campaign started in 2006 after several deaths in the Valley during a 2005 heat wave, according to Brande Mead, human services planner at Maricopa Association of Governments.
Donation sites are set up in Mesa, and those in need of water can pick it up at specific locations in the city. But Goodie said from what they noticed this year, some of the homeless weren't even in a position to go to the water stations.
"When we patrol city parks, we see first-hand people who are lying down without water, people who can barely walk. Some drink nasty hot water out of restrooms. We just wanted to do something," said Goodie, who was handing out water at Pioneer Park on Monday.
Goodie added that rangers patrol the parks anyway, so taking the water is just an extra step that doesn't take away from their time.
While Mesa has 56 parks, the rangers concentrate on the west side because of greater need in the area, Goodie said.
Mead said such campaigns are especially critical this year because Maricopa County has had a 20 percent increase in its homeless population since last year. An annual count of the homeless done in January came to 2,918 people, not including those in shelters. There are typically around 5,000 in shelters on any given night.
Mesa's numbers slid from 250 in 2008 to 152 this year. But Lisa Wilson, Mesa's human services program coordinator, said that may not be an accurate reflection of the real numbers, simply because this year, the city was not able to deploy enough police officers to do the count.
Mead said that within the overall increase, there's also a trend in that the number of homeless families and youth has increased 300 percent. She blamed it on the economy and people being evicted because they lost their jobs and couldn't pay the rent or mortgage.
Michael Boos, director at Paz de Cristo, said demand for water is greater this year. Boos said water donations are always welcome.
"We have enough for now, but it's always needed," Boos said. "This is not just water to these people. It can be their lifeline."