Cooling centres vital for city's most vulnerable, outreach workers say

·2 min read
Salvation Army outreach workers hand out bottles of water to people experiencing homelessness on the street in Ottawa during the latest heat wave. (Submitted by Jason Pino - image credit)
Salvation Army outreach workers hand out bottles of water to people experiencing homelessness on the street in Ottawa during the latest heat wave. (Submitted by Jason Pino - image credit)

With the extreme heat over the last week, community service workers say cooling centres have been vital for Ottawa's most vulnerable.

Temperatures in the region have exceeded 28 C and the humidity has made it feel closer to 40 most days since Environment Canada first issued a heat warning last Thursday afternoon.

The highs are currently forecast to exceed 30 C through this upcoming Thursday, too, so the Salvation Army's outreach crew has extended its hours, heading out each morning at 7 a.m. instead of 11 a.m., according to Jason Pino, supervisor of the outreach services program.

The street outreach van provides support to people experiencing homelessness by transporting them to shelters or the city's emergency cooling centres, and by supplying them with water, food and appropriate clothing, he added.

"Our workers are specifically out there looking for our clients who they're in regular contact with, and making sure that they're staying safe and taken care of in the midst of what is increased vulnerability with the heat," said Pino.

Submitted by Jason Pino
Submitted by Jason Pino

Cooling centres an equity issue

Those sleeping outside in parks and on the street are more exposed to heat and those struggling with addiction or mental health face added health concerns in this weather, Pino said.

"It adds to their confusion and their sometimes lack of awareness of what's going on around them, or how to take care of themselves," he added.

The outreach team has seen an increase in the number of people requiring access to cooling centres to access air conditioning and services, Pino said, adding it's important the city decided to keep them open through Wednesday.

These three cooling centres are open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.:

  • Ottawa City Hall, 110 Laurier Ave. W.

  • Plant Recreation Centre, 930 Somerset St. W.

  • Overbrook Community Centre, 33 Quill St.

An Ottawa paramedic spokesperson said they have also seen a "huge jump" in heat-related calls.

That is why cooling centres are so vital, according to Martha Robinson, who chairs the city's committee on responses to extreme weather.

Robinson said the city hall location has been the most popular cooling centre for those seeking respite.

"It's been challenging because many of the places people go to cool down … the facilities have occupancy restrictions," she said.

Ben Andrews/CBC News
Ben Andrews/CBC News

Robinson says working with rooming house landlords and community housing is key to ensuring people know about the cooling centres, while ensuring people who speak various languages also understand the option.

The city has translated its Beat the Heat information into six different languages, she said.

The city does plan to close its 53 wading pools on Tuesday and four supervised beaches on Aug. 29, while splash pads remain open until Sept. 15.

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