It’s hot out there! Most of Canada is expected to experience a heat wave, or near heat wave conditions for much of this week. Already this year we’ve seen deaths of children in Ontario and Alberta after they were forgotten in a vehicle for a short time. According to San Francisco State University, 20 children in the US have died in cars already this year; 33 died last year.
Typically, concerns for homeless people and other vulnerable populations rise when temperatures are cold, but heat is actually the number one weather-related killer in North America. In fact, heat kills more people annually than all other weather conditions combined including tornados, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes. In Toronto, for example, it is estimated that 105 people die from cold each year and 120 from the heat. Numbers are similar in other North American cities.
It is critical that municipal planning for emergencies includes addressing how homeless people will be protected during heat waves and other extreme weather events.
Toronto has one of the best developed hot weather response plans in North America. It includes a partnership roundtable involving community and city services who mobilize different levels of activity during heat or extreme heat alerts. The city calls a heat alert “when forecast weather conditions suggest that the likelihood of a high level of mortality is between 25 and 50 percent greater than what would be expected on a typical day” and an extreme heat alert when the mortality is 50% or greater.
For my Master in Environmental Studies at York I worked with the Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre, Sistering Drop-In and the City of Toronto to develop a risk-based heat registry to protect low-income, homeless and marginally housed individuals during extreme hot weather. The city has created a Heat Registry Manual that is available for community agencies to modify and adopt to create their own registries. Examining several different factors we determined what would make someone at increased risk during heat waves including physical and mental health, housing situation (or lack thereof), social isolation and addictions.
This is echoed by Health Canada who says that the joint factors of chronic illness, certain medications and living alone can combine to make someone extremely vulnerable. Homeless people, who are often socially isolated, would also fall into this category.
In, Beating the Heat on the Street, from Partners for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH), Steven Samra shares some tips for outreach workers assisting homeless populations including carrying extra water, providing transit tickets and allowing people access to air conditioning.
Some other heat-related resources:
Health Canada - Communicating the Health Risks of Extreme Heat Events: Toolkit for Public Health and Emergency Management Officials
Health Canada – Community Care During Extreme Heat – Heat Illness: Prevention and Preliminary Care
The City of Toronto’s Beat the Heat pamphlet is available in 20 different languages including Russian, Urdu, Spanish and Tamil.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Prevention Guide to Promote Personal Health and Safety: Extreme Heat