'Cooling centres' for Toronto's homeless?

Graeme Bacque (gbacque@idirect.com)
Wed, 14 Jul 1999 05:44:54 -0400

Cooling centres idea `fantastic,' Layton says 

By Catherine Dunphy 
Toronto Star Feature Writer

Toronto's mayor got hot under the collar yesterday at the idea
of Metro Hall and other city buildings becoming Chicago-style
``cooling centres'' for the poor and homeless during heat waves.

With the temperature expected to hit 30C tomorrow, Councillor
Jack Layton (Don River) wants Mel Lastman to throw open at
least four of the former municipal city halls for the hot and

He also wants Lastman to start a heat watch and air pollution
warning system, and operate it from his office like Chicago
Mayor Richard Daley. 

Chicago's cooling centres were introduced after the 1995 heat
wave. In every neighbourhood some public buildings with air
conditioning have been designated as places where residents
can stay during a heat emergency. 

The system is triggered whenever the U.S. National Weather
Service declares a heat watch or warning. 

When the humidex is more than 43C, the full heat warning
system is activated.

Everyone in Chicago gets involved in a hot weather alert,
Layton said.

``The hot weather alerts involve the whole community, from
housing authorities and cable companies who tell seniors to go
to cooling centres, to transit authorities who put on free buses
to take them there, to libraries which stay open 24 hours to
house them,'' he said.

``It's fantastic.''

The mayor is not as enthusiastic.

``I don't care what they do in Chicago, they do all kinds of
things in Chicago,'' Lastman sputtered.

He said he'd consider taking some kind of action if the
temperature climbs over 32C but only as a temporary measure
and never on a daily basis.

Lastman also said he's getting a staff health report on a heat
response plan for the city's homeless population today.

Liz Janzen, regional director of the Toronto Board of Health,
said the board hasn't identified a specific temperature at which
the city should launch a hot weather emergency response.

``It is difficult to find the health evidence to support the
temperature at which to say a full emergency exists,'' she told
the city's homeless advisory committee yesterday.

Janzen said many drop-in centres are air-conditioned, and parks
and recreation staff don't remove people from sitting in the
shade in parks as long as they are not drinking, using drugs or
being aggressive. 

A just-released Toronto public health fact sheet called ``How
To Beat The Heat'' recommends people drink lots of water,
avoid going out in the sun or heat, take advantage of
air-conditioned places and take cool baths in the heat.

But people using shelters must leave them in the mornings and
can't return until evening. 

``They are released from the hostels into the worst part of the
day,'' said John Andras, a founder of Project Warmth.

Andras has just started Project Water, which has distributed
more than 80,000 donated bottles of water to front-line agencies
such as Shout clinic, Street Health, the Native Men's Residence
Street Help bus and the Wellesley Hospital's health bus.

`People are just scooping up the water,'' said Michelle Coutu,
who works on Wellesley's health bus.

The heat is still taking its toll on the homeless.

``We had a terrible experience in Parkdale during the holiday
weekend,'' said Victor Willis, executive director of Parkdale Area
Recreational Centre.

Temperatures soared over the 30C mark and some homeless
people suffered seizures, he said.

With files from Jack Lakey