Joseph Yanez and Jose Cardenas bring St. Vincent de Paul where other social services don’t always reach. They visit arroyos, secluded urban areas, overpasses, canals, parks, abandoned buildings and alleyways — spots where they know people experiencing homelessness live and take refuge.
For more than five years, the pair have made weekly routes across the Valley on the Celebrity Fight Night Water Truck, donated to SVdP in 2015 by Jimmy Walker and named after the charity event which helped fund it.
Back then, Maricopa County counted 1,289 people living on the street during its annual Point-in-Time Homeless Count. In the five years since, that number has nearly tripled. This year the County recorded 3,767 people living on the street or in a place not meant for human habitation.
On the front line of the rising homelessness crisis are Joseph and Jose in their water truck, which serves hundreds of people each day.
“I see a lot of sadness,” says Joseph, who is the program supervisor for the truck outreach. “I see a lot of need.”
The relief truck started as a way to get water to people on the street and in remote places, especially during the hot summer months when lives depend on access to water.
“One of the main concerns, especially in the summer and especially in the desert, is that these people die of dehydration,” says Jose, who is assistant program supervisor.
The Arizona Department of Health Services recommends people drink about two liters (or half a gallon) of water every day, but that intake recommendation drastically spikes for those outdoors. If outside, AZDHS suggests drinking one to two liters (or half a gallon) of water every hour.
Over the years, Joseph and Jose have seen critical situations and experienced unfortunate tragedies, where relief came too late. Of last year’s 191 heat-associated deaths, individuals experiencing homelessness made up 37 percent, and some of those people Joseph and Jose knew by name.
So they know firsthand what a lifeline the water truck can be to people who depend on its services, which have grown far beyond water relief. The truck also offers food, clothing, hygiene items, resource directories and — maybe most importantly — an infusion of humanity’s kindness and a bit of hope to the people it serves.
Lately though, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the water truck duo has felt increased pressure with fewer and fewer service agencies reaching the people the truck serves.
“Things aren’t getting any better out here,” Joseph recently wrote in a field update. “A lot of people who went out delivering food and water have stopped. It seems we have become their main source of relief.”
But he and Jose forge ahead out of faith and because they know people in dire situations are relying on them.
“The mission remains the same,” Joseph continued, “and we continue to march forward, albeit with extra precautions.”
That mission has Joseph and Jose starting early at 5 a.m. and working long days, seven days a week right now during peak summer temperatures. Every day they visit a different region of the valley, drive the routes they know, discover new routes along the way and provide relief to as many people as possible.
Will you help keep Joseph, Jose and the Water Truck on the road and on its mission to save lives? Donate today at www.summerrelief.org.