Tempe, ASU program collaborate in efforts to aid people without housing

Jenny's Trailer, a mobile cooling unit, was designed by ASU engineering students and began operations this year

The city of Tempe, in collaboration with ASU, launched Jenny's Trailer, a new mobile cooling center in September. The project was in part put together by the University's Engineering Projects In Community Service (EPICS) students in order to offer assistance to homeless people during Arizona's hot summer months.

The cooling trailer is named after philanthropist Jenny Norton, who purchased the project in a $15,000 donation toward Tempe's HOPE program, which is dedicated to ending homelessness within the city. HOPE program officials will be stationed at the center, which travels around parks in Tempe, to assist individuals in need and guide them to resources.

The initiative was organized by ASU's Healthy Urban Environments program manager Liza Oz-Golden, Tempe City Council member Lauren Kuby and Norton. While the students weren't able to consistently meet in person and work on the trailer due to COVID-19 restraints, they still played a vital role in the development of the project.

"They brought freshness and innovation," Oz-Golden said.

EPICS students developed the budget for the project and came up with some of the crucial ideas that would eventually fall into the design process, including keeping the unit environmentally friendly. Students designed a trailer with chairs, an awning and a solar-powered battery capable of accommodating individuals without homes who wish to use the cooling center.

According to Oz-Golden, the students working on the design for the cooling center were ambitious and brought new ideas to the project.

"These are things that experienced people would say, 'oh it doesn't work'," said Oz-Golden. "Working with EPICS students is an epic experience because they really bring new, fresh ideas to the table." 

The EPICS students involved in the collaboration ventured out to Tempe parks in order to interview homeless people; the effort was done in order to truly grasp what local individuals needed to obtain respite from the heat.

"A big part of our EPICS program is focused on the human-centered design process, so understanding what is it the people actually want ... making no assumptions from our own experiences but getting understanding of the experiences from the individuals that will actually be using it," EPICS program director Jared Schoepf said.

After reaching out to students who worked on the project, The State Press did not receive any response before the time of publication.

Kuby said she worked as a liaison between EPICS students and the city during the year-long project. Kuby said the cooling center "stayed true to its goals."

"It's all about providing really targeted respite from the heat, and just helping people where they are," Kuby said. 

Without housing or shelter, recent years have seen an increase in heat-associated deaths among homeless people.

The efforts made by the city of Tempe aim to lower these numbers in the future.

"There are many different ways of approaching a problem, there isn't only one solution," Kuby said.

While Jenny's Trailer is offering assistance to homeless people in different parks across the city, Tempe has also purchased a 40-unit motel to be repurposed for low-income housing and rehabilitation resources. The motel will serve residents with the end goal being to move them into a permanent housing environment.

As Tempe continues to offer aid solutions to people without housing, both with and without ASU's collaboration, Maricopa county has worked to aid the local homeless population. Shelter beds are available to people without housing throughout Maricopa county.


Reach the reporter at aaschul3@asu.edu and follow @schulzemiller on Twitter.

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