Toronto’s homeless at risk as heat warning issued

Published On May 26, 2020 | By Rachael Dyal | News
People maintain social distance as they sit at Cherry Beach while the province prepares for more phased re-openings from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions in Toronto on May 24, 2020. (REUTERS/Carlos Osorio)
Rachael Dyal

Toronto’s first heatwave this year poses a risk to already compromised individuals such as Toronto’s homeless population, according to Marie MacCormack, the communications and fundraising director at Fred Victor, which operates shelters and transitional housing in Toronto.

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) issued a heat warning today for people in Toronto to ensure that everyone takes the right precautions before stepping outside.

Toronto announced six emergency cooling centres have been opened for people who could face potential health risks from extreme heat. 

Today’s weather forecast has been keeping staff at Fred Victor, a charity in Toronto that provides housing and other community services to people who are homeless or low-income, very busy.

“People who are homeless are already compromised,” MacCormack said. “Quite often they have a compromised immune system, years of poor nutrition combined with addiction and mental health issues…so combine that with the heat they’re even more at risk.”

Places that people would normally go to escape the heat at times like these are closed right now, she said.

The most common places included libraries, community centres, shopping malls, coffee shops and other public places that would normally have air conditioning, MacCormack said. 

Toronto recorded a high of 31 C today and also expected Wednesday with a humidex between the mid-30s to 40 C, according to ECCC. 

The Region of Peel issued a press release advising people to stay hydrated and not leave pets or children in parked vehicles.

MacCormack said Fred Victor is currently involved in the operation of some of the cooling centres that are open, and it is are trying to get as many homeless people into them as possible.  

“There’s one on Shuter Street, the Regent Park Community Centre and this would be the closest for most of the people who use our services,” she said. 

However, the rapid change in weather has put a strain on Fred Victor staff, MacCormack said. 

Employees at the charity are scrambling to do their best to shelter people during today’s extreme heat while staying safe and protecting not only themselves but everyone else from contracting COVID-19. 

“It’s that extra layer of not only do we have to quickly open a cooling centre, but now we have that extra consideration of how we keep a cooling centre safe,” MacCormack said.  

They’re applying the same safety protocols they would at their shelters, ensuring staff have access to personal protective equipment and that protocols are being used, such as screening people entering facilities, she said. 

Kim McKinnon, the superintendent for Toronto Paramedic Services, said the best thing people can do throughout this heat warning is to plan their day based on the weather.

Toronto Paramedic Services YouTube video explains how people can stay safe during heat waves.

McKinnon said it’s important to stay hydrated during hot days.

“The important things are to stay hydrated, wear sunscreen, keep in the shade and wear a hat and plan accordingly,” she said. “If you know it’s going to be hot and humid…judge yourself accordingly.”

She warns people with pre-existing medical conditions can feel the effects of the heat more than others. 

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