Activists are joining together to call on the City and Province to address the annual heat emergency. TDRC has developed a three-point plan to Cool Toronto as a means of preventing needless deaths. This plan includes:
- immediate – SAVE LIVES (emergency relief from the killer heat and killer smog)
- short-term – GET COOL (start cooling down Toronto’s homes and neighbourhoods)
- medium-term – STAY COOL (urban heat island mitigation strategy) (See 2005 Council motion)
This plan was presented at a press conference with cross-sectoral speakers including: Doris Grinspun RN, MSN ~ Executive Director, Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario; Cathy Crowe, RN ~ Street Nurse and Toronto Board of Health Member; Bob Fugere ~ Interim Executive Director at the Toronto Environmental Alliance and Maureen Thompson ~ Director of Community Health, Regent Park Community Health Centre.
The province's only response to the ongoing heat crisis was to issue a warning from Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Sheela Basrur that "Extreme heat and humidity can pose a risk to everyone, young and old...". Given that every media outlet and health organization has been saying the same thing since the first heat alert in May, more work at the provincial level obviously needs to be done.
We call on the province to establish minimum temperature guidelines. If milk must be protected through temperature regulation - so should people.
MPP Andrea Horwath from Hamilton East wrote a strong letter of support for TDRC's efforts and says "I have called on the McGuinty Liberals to legislate an appropriately cool temperature threshold in their promised new Long Term Care Act. Also the Ministry should look at offering a program of funding assistance to help bring nursing homes into compliance."
Making ~ some ~ headway:
Tanya Gulliver of TDRC presented a deputation in response to the City's Hot Weather Response Plan Update at the Toronto Board of Health's April 16th, 2007 meeting. The TDRC recommendations were adopted. See the deputation:
An Op-Ed "Toronto cool to heat-wave planning" by Cathy Crowe was published in the Toronto Star, on July 31st,2006. The Star's own editorial "Relief from the heat" followed the next day.
The City's press releases and backgrounders have become more detailed, as they respond to criticisms raised by TDRC and other activists.
The Mayor, as we and others have requested, visited a cooling centre on August 1st - to hold a press conference. While he was challenged by some media who said the city was wasting money with the cooling centres, we commend Mayor Miller for challenging that assumption. Money spent on cooling centres now saves money spent on medical costs later.
The City's inaction continues however.
On August 1st, during an Extreme Heat Alert, the only food available to attendees at the Metro Hall Cooling Centre was granola bars, and only two cots were available; despite a third individual who wished to lie down.
When asked who provided transportation to the cooling centres, the Red Cross told one street nurse to call the Street Helpline. Guess someone should have told them - they knew nothing about it!
The City continually points to the four cooling centres as well as libraries and community centres, and the Red Cross emergency line as solutions. Yet, the Red Cross line operates from 9am to 9pm only, 3 of the cooling centres close at 7pm, and the libraries and community centres shut down at varying times throughout the evening. Yet on the night of July 31st-Aug1st - the hottest ever overnight temperature was recorded. People suffering overnight - and many did - had little recourse if they couldn't get themselves to the only 24hour Cooling centre - that of Metro Hall.
The City has not been acting fast enough in 2006 to call heat alerts and extreme heat alerts.
Even when an Extreme Heat Alert is called, the response is insufficient. Only the Metro Hall cooling centre is open 24 hours a day. The three other centres, East York, North York and Etobicoke civic centres are only open from 11am to 7pm. There are no centres available that are easily accessible in much of the city. Transportation to cooling centres is not provided. Information on the city's website is only updated Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.
The City's response plan is NOT adequate. Please contact your local councillor (you can find out their contact information here.
Ask them to:
- Open more cooling centres. The existing centres are not all easily accessible and may require extensive transportation time to access them. 4 centres are insufficient for a city of this size. Cooling centres are needed not just for homeless people but also the sick, elderly and marginally housed who may be living in very hot, crowded conditions.
- Provide transportation to AND FROM cooling centres to increase their accessibility.
Extend the hours of the cooling centres in the local civic centres (11am-7pm is insufficient for people living in hot apartments or on the street, and they shouldn't have to come downtown to Metro Hall to access services. Etobicoke, North York and East York communities should be served by having their cooling centres open 24 hours a day as well).
Ensure that high caloric, nutritious and healthy snacks are being provided. Is a 140 cal cereal bar really sufficient? Even for some housed people, their living conditions make cooking an impossibility if they want to avoid the heat.
Ensure that every cooling centre has a list of other agencies and services. The City should provide the cooling centres with a full list of resources that can be distributed to individuals - this should include shelters, drop-ins and food programs.
The Mayor and the Chair of the Board of Health should be making public service announcements and doing what they can to promote the cooling centres.
Ask your councillor individually to:
- visit their local cooling centre and see for themselves what is happening;
- turn off the air conditioner at home to see how hot it gets; and
- spend a couple hours outside to experience the heat.
For more information on the Hot Weather response plan and heat alerts, go to the City of Toronto's Public Health website.
Please CC TDRC <firstname.lastname@example.org> on emails to councillors or let us know of their response.
July 17th update about inaction over the weekend: On July 14th and 15th Toronto the weather was extremely hot and yet no heat alert was called. Temperature on July 14th reached 30 degrees (37 with the humidex) and the following day, 31.4 C and 38C with the humidex.
The heat alert (and at that point it became an Extreme Heat Alert) was not called until Sunday morning.
The latest report on heat and smog by Michael Shapcott was presented to the Board of Health at their March 2006 meeting.
On June 30 2005, TDRC was informed of the death of a man in a rooming house. This death was deemed "heat-related" by the coroner's office. We immediately organized a press conference to draw attention to the critical conditions faced by many poor and low-income people living in sub-standard housing, especially in times of extreme heat.
On Monday, July 11, 2005 TDRC took our concerns to the Board of Health. Read our letter to the Board of Health and our deputation, Killer Heat, Killer Smog.
What we are asking:
1. For the Chief Coroner of Ontario call an immediate inquest into the death of Richard Howell.
2. For the City of Toronto to develop a maximum temperature standard (much like that in existence for a minimum temperature during the winter months)
3. For a community response protocol - co-ordinating TTC tickets for low-income, poor and homeless people to get to cooling centres, providing additional community workers to assist during heat and smog alerts, geographically accessible cooling centre locations, etc.
4. For the City of Toronto to update the Personal Care Bylaw (which is meant to address the social and health conditions of low income housing) and confirm its legal status.
5. For a housing rehabilitation program, to bring existing rooming and boarding houses up to the new maximum temperature standard (via the Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program - RRAP)
TDRC has issued a media advisory on July 13th calling attention to the inadequate emergency heat response by the City of Toronto. The city run Cooling Centres are dangerously inadequate, especially in comparison to other cities across North America and Europe.
We took action on Sunday, July 17th by bringing food and drinks to the Metro Hall Cooling Centre.