Surviving the Scorching Summer Heat

Robert Leon sits on a park bench in the shade, smiling at the camera.

As temperatures rise and homelessness increases, neighbors like Robert Leon are pushed beyond the breaking point — but you are giving them hope and another chance.

The heat and homelessness are deadly in the Valley. In 2022, Maricopa County registered at least 378 heat-related deaths, an increase of more than 11% from 2021’s previous high.

The last few summers have been among the hottest on record. At the same time, the number of people living on the streets is at an all-time high. More than 5,000 men, women and children were unsheltered at last count.

Robert Leon understands the dangers of summer heat on a very personal level. He spent four years struggling to survive on the streets of Sunnyslope. “The summers were getting hotter and hotter,” he remembers. “The best thing to do is find a faucet, get wet and let yourself dry out. And of course, you have to drink lots of water. Sometimes, I would stay at a park and clean it up. But you need to use most of your strength just to find shade.”

Family Divisions Take Their Toll

Based on his resume, Robert Leon is not the type of person you would expect to end up experiencing homelessness. “I had a lot of success,” he says. “I was a manager at several hotels, and I spent time in Hawaii and American Samoa. I used to save sea turtles and help manage U.S. Pacific fisheries.”

When he completed these adventures, Robert Leon returned to his hometown of Phoenix to take care of his family. But what he found was difficult to digest.

“There was so much division,” he remembers. “We had grown apart.” As Robert Leon struggled to reestablish his life while helping various family members with bills and more, he made several poor life decisions and ended up getting a DUI. After a while, he wasn’t helping them anymore — he depended on them to sustain bad habits. Unfortunately, as relationships broke down further, it got to the point where Robert Leon’s family told him, “We can’t help you anymore.”

After more than four years on the hot streets, Robert Leon is grateful that caring friends like you are helping him rebuild his life.

That’s when Robert Leon hit the streets. As weeks turned into months and then years, his life grew worse and worse.

“God Was With Me”

Surviving years of summer heat on the streets of the Valley is no small feat. When temperatures rise above 100° every day for months at a time, it requires monumental strength of will and perseverance to find water, food and the hope to carry on.

But there comes a time when even the hardiest souls are undone, and Robert Leon was no exception. “Eventually, I broke down and said to God, ‘I’ll do things your way.’ That same day I got arrested, and I’ve been sober ever since.” After a brief time in jail, Robert Leon came straight to Phoenix Rescue Mission to rebuild his life.

A key step on his recovery journey was surrendering to God. Now, Robert Leon is growing in faith and deeply grateful for God’s grace.

The Mission is about more than meals or a safe refuge from the heat. Our goal is Christ-centered life transformation, and Robert Leon is working towards that every day. He’s made exciting progress and says, “Now that I’m here, I realize God was with me the whole time. I have a great counselor, good fellowship, brothers who listen and help me, and a community of support.” He’s also grateful for family relationships that are healing.

Taken together, these are the building blocks of renewal and restoration, and they are a credit to the power of your prayers and support. Thank you, and God bless you, for rescuing homeless and hurting neighbors like Robert Leon from the summer heat and giving them another chance.

Robert Leon and his counselor, Jackie.
Robert Leon pictured with Jackie, his counselor at Phoenix Rescue Mission.