Jenny Norton never forgot growing up in a South Phoenix trailer park. Schoolmates often would gather to enjoy the common area and cozy pool.
Those memories motivated Norton to create a mobile cooling center for those experiencing homelessness in the community in the scorching desert summer heat.
From her idea, Tempe launched Jenny’s Trailer, a solarized 20-foot travel trailer that is a collaboration among the city, Norton and Arizona State University to provide respite from extreme heat and a place to connect to housing and social services. It is staffed by the city’s HOPE homeless outreach specialists
“Arizona’s summer heat can be deadly, and those living outdoors need access to places like Jenny’s Trailer, where they can cool off and get a cold bottle of water,” said Tempe Mayor Corey Woods.
Councilmember Lauren Kuby, who works at ASU’s Stardust Center, brought the partners together.
“The city is grateful for our longtime collaborations with Jenny and her husband, Bob Ramsey, and Arizona State University, and for our shared desire to serve individuals in need during the most difficult and dangerous months of the year,” Kuby said.
Norton, a longtime philanthropist, activist and community advocate for the homeless, donated $15,000 to the city’s HOPE homeless outreach program to purchase the trailer that students in ASU’s Engineering Projects in Community Service converted into a mobile cooling center.
Jenny’s Trailer is open on extreme heat days. Following this year’s pilot program, the city will operate the trailer during the summer months at locations like city parks. Two HOPE outreach specialists will provide onsite connections to temporary shelter, housing programs, the city’s Tempe Works jobs program and community medical services.
During cooler months, the HOPE team will continue using the trailer as a means of providing connection to services, shelter and housing.
“Here in our hometown of Tempe and across the greater Valley of the Sun and beyond, we know that there are many who need that small bit of assistance that can ultimately feel so immense,” Norton said.
“This is why it is my honor to collaborate with the city, ASU and those who are experiencing homelessness to provide a new place, our little trailer, offering safe harbor as well as access to some cool drinks, Wi-Fi and welcoming friendship.”
ASU’s Healthy Urban Environments initiative worked to ensure that the trailer design would fulfill the mission.
HUE’s Project Manager, Liza Oz-Golden, worked with EPICS students and Tempe staff to create a quality space that people would want to visit. Solar experts with Sun Valley Solar Solutions ensured that the renewable-energy system would be able to keep the space cool during hot summer months without creating a negative impact on the environment.
“It was a high priority for us to reach out to the unhoused individuals where they live and to create a mobile cooling center that provides heat relief but doesn’t contribute to poor air quality. Using solar power was an alternative to a dirty diesel generator,” Oz-Golden said.
“As a result, Jenny’s Trailer provides a healthy environment, and we hope it will help improve their quality of life and provide relief from the heat.”