Metro Vancouver outreach organizations come up with plans to protect vulnerable individuals from extreme heat

·3 min read
A man carrying multiple jugs of water walks through a sprinkler during a period of record-breaking temperatures in Vancouver in June 2021.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
A man carrying multiple jugs of water walks through a sprinkler during a period of record-breaking temperatures in Vancouver in June 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Organizations supporting seniors and homeless individuals in B.C.'s Lower Mainland are preparing for the possibility of an intense heat wave after hundreds died from extreme heat last summer.

A total of 595 people died as a result of heat in 2021, including 231 people on June 29 during what is now considered the deadliest weather event in Canadian history.

At that time, temperatures in B.C. soared above 40 C, and in some cases nearly hit 50 C.

Nearly 70 per cent of those who died were over the age of 70. More than half lived in the Fraser Health Authority area, and about a quarter lived in the Vancouver Coastal Health region.

Burnaby Neighbourhood House (BNH), an organization dedicated to helping out neighbourhood residents in need, is holding a fan and spray bottle drive to ensure seniors in the city have the ability to cool down should temperatures rise this summer.

"I think that we have a really high number of vulnerable seniors living in Burnaby and New Westminster," CEO Antonia Beck told On the Coast host Gloria Macarenko.

"You have seniors who are not only living alone and perhaps disconnected, but also the seniors who couldn't go out and purchase the fan."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Beck says they're collecting new and gently used fans, as well as spray bottles. They're also looking for volunteers to be on call to take seniors to cooling centres should the need arise, and for people to help connect seniors with the BNH so they can provide wellness checks and deliver fans to those who need them.

Other organizations are working on heat plans to ensure people living in single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels and who live in homeless camps are protected.

Last year non-profits like Covenant House scrambled to gather water and other supplies to keep SRO residents safe when the forecast became clear that the heat would be like nothing the province had seen before.

B.C. Housing's Vice President of Operations Dale McMann said he's working with other non-profits in the Downtown Eastside to ensure they can provide support and information to those they serve.

McMann said other authorities such as the Vancouver Park Board are working to ensure people in camps have access to drinking water, because there are a lot of people who, even if they are offered a room in an SRO, want to stay outside.

"Being outdoors is a safer alternative in extreme heat than being indoors where there's a lack of ventilation, air circulation and air-conditioning," he said.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Currently, McMann said, almost none of B.C. Housing's SROs have air-conditioning or the capacity to install it. That means they also have to gather fans and portable air conditioners to help keep residents cool this summer.

"That's why we're providing education and alternatives in terms of wellness checks on really vulnerable residents, on trying to provide access to cooling areas," he said.

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