Advocates in Toronto urge city to rethink ‘inaccessible’ heat strategy and bring back cooling centers

Advocates are sounding the alarm about the city’s current approach to extreme heat, saying the framework does little for Toronto’s homeless community as the city experiences its third consecutive day of high temperatures and high humidity. .

the Heat relief network strategy, first implemented in 2019, is the city’s current approach to extreme heat, in which approximately 300 locations in Toronto are marked as “designated cool spots.” These include libraries, civic centers, indoor and outdoor pools, wading pools, and shopping malls, among others.

While there are more “designated cooling slots” on the Heat Relief Network than there are cooling centers, the centers were better equipped with the resources and medical care needed to care for those suffering from extreme heat, advocates say.

Diana Chan McNally, a community worker for All Saints Toronto, told CTV News Toronto that the current locations are poorly equipped and often inaccessible.

“We have lost dedicated spaces and instead rely on existing infrastructure like libraries and community centers to function as de facto ‘cool spaces,’ but [there are no] additional resources so they can do this, including the resources needed to extend hours on days like Sunday when most libraries are closed,” said Chan McNally.

Last Sunday, as temperatures hit 90 degrees and humidex levels hit 41 C, many community centers and libraries listed as designated cool-off spaces were closed, per their regular hours of operation.

When contacted for comment, the city of Toronto did not provide a statement on whether all designated cool spaces should be open on Sundays when there are heat advisories.

A city spokesperson provided a statement to CTV News Toronto that said that in the face of climate change, the city’s approach to managing responses to hot weather has “evolved based on evidence showing that heat is increasing in intensity.” and heat waves are more frequent and longer due to climate change.”

They say a small number of temporary cooling centers have been shown to be insufficient to minimize heat-related health risks.

The heat relief strategy “allows greater access to [cooling] places throughout the city” and provides relief “through public and familiar places where vulnerable people, including the elderly and disabled, are located,” they said.

The city also said street teams are activated when heat advisories are issued to promote the well-being of those who live outdoors.

Rafi Aaron, a spokesman for the Toronto Interfaith Coalition to Fight Homelessness, told CTV News Toronto that despite the increase in the number of places to cool off, the places are not always friendly to homeless populations. .

“[The city is] sending customers to places where they’re not welcome … or that aren’t close to where they are,” Aaron said in an interview Monday.

He said a client recently followed city advice and went to a water park in an effort to cool off, where he says other residents called authorities upon arrival.

McNally says private spaces like shopping malls can also be “unwelcoming to low-income and homeless people.”

“They also don’t have medical care in place to treat heat, food or drink-related illnesses,” he said.

She points out that the interactive city map also poses a challenge for some homeless people.

“This is just not accessible to people who can’t use or don’t have smartphones or access to Wi-Fi or data,” he said.

Chan McNally says having cooling centers in existing community infrastructure isn’t an inherent problem “as long as they’re funded to extend hours and provide on-site health care, food and drink.”

“Climate change will only exacerbate inequality unless we design a heat relief network that prioritizes those most vulnerable to heat,” he said.

Aaron agrees with the city’s and Chan McNally’s sentiments that responses to extreme weather must adapt to the ever-evolving climate crisis, but says the city is “abdicating moral and ethical responsibility” by singling out people places without enough resources.

Instead, Aaron says he wants the city to move toward dedicated emergency weather centers, open year-round and equipped with the right resources.

Meanwhile, he spends his time handing out flat-bottomed water bottles to the city’s homeless community in an effort to help people weather the heat.

“We just can’t meet the demand for water,” he said. “People cannot exist like this. They need a place to go.

In an effort to help ease the heat for residents, the City of Toronto has also extended the hours of seven public swimming pools until 11:45 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday as part of its response to the advisories.

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