Newsletter No. 27 September 2006
I've been a street nurse in Toronto for 17 years. In the spring of 2004 I received the Atkinson Economic Justice Award which permits me to pursue, for up to three years, my passions for nursing and working on homelessness and housing issues. In this newsletter I hope to report on my activities, create a link to a broader group of individuals who care about these social issues and encourage critical debate.
Further information about subscribing to the newsletter is found below. I want to hear from you - about the newsletter, about things that are happening in the homelessness sector (what a sad term!), and about good things which will provide inspiration for all of us.
Disaster, Poverty and Neglect
1 . Killer Heat: A 2006 Post-mortem
(hopefully my final word on the matter)
1. Killer Heat: A 2006 Post-mortem
Deaths - 2006
I would like to believe that Toronto escaped the catastrophe of heat-related deaths this summer. I don’t. Not when:
In 2005 TDRC and the Toronto Board
of Health requested the Coroner consider holding an inquest into the death
of Richard Howell, who died in his rooming house during a heat wave.
One year later, the Coroner advised both groups by phone that there
would be no inquest as there was nothing to be learned.
Repeated requests by TDRC for the Coroner’s decision in writing
have been refused.
In 2005 TDRC and the Toronto Board of Health requested the Coroner consider holding an inquest into the death of Richard Howell, who died in his rooming house during a heat wave. One year later, the Coroner advised both groups by phone that there would be no inquest as there was nothing to be learned. Repeated requests by TDRC for the Coroner’s decision in writing have been refused.
How to prevent heat deaths and what our officials are
It’s no secret that most heat wave
victims are elderly and poor. Two
primary reasons for death are a lack of air conditioning and the necessary
family and agency supports that can prevent a medical emergency.
People with other types of conditions such as depression, diabetes
and those on psychiatric drugs are also at higher risk of death during a
heat wave. Dr. Sari Kovats of
the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine argues in the British
Medical Journal that the current response in the
In the aftermath of previous heat
related tragedies, most major cities in the
In contrast, Canadian municipal,
provincial and federal governments all seemed to be at the cottage.
Just about everyone I tried to contact on this issue in July and
August was away. Perhaps the
most absurd example was
So what did happen in Canada
Despite direction by City Council,
When I contacted the Ontario government to raise the issue of regional inequalities in municipal heat plans, which I believe are putting the public at risk, I faced bureaucratic apathy, inexperience and bungling. A call to Minister of Health George Smitherman’s office led to a call back by a ‘Client Service Rep’. I explained to him that this was not a client service issue and I wanted the Minister and the Medical Officer of Health to be informed of my concerns. I outlined my background and experience on this issue and identified myself as a Toronto Board of Health member. When asked what my ultimate goal was I replied, “an emergency meeting within a week with appropriate Ministry staff.” I never received a call back and days later when I called the Client Service Rep, I was told that he was away for a week and no one had been given ‘the file’ to handle. I then called a senior manager in the Ministry, which led to a return call by a toxicology expert! That call led to another call with another person and so on … you get the idea.
Doris Grinspun, Executive Director of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario raised similar concerns and she received prompt replies and promises of policy review. However, the only provincial statement to the public so far has been a bland and non-news worthy media release by Ontario’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Sheela Basrur warning the public that:
“extreme heat and humidity can pose a risk to everyone, young and old, but it is the very young, the elderly and the chronically ill who need special attention.”
The advisory included the following:
was encouraged to see an August 1 letter from Dr. Basrur to Doris Grinspun,
where she wrote:
“that in light of current and future environmental conditions, the problems associated with extreme heat require further consideration. As such, the Ministry has begun to review current programs and policies within the scope of the Mandatory Health Programs and Service Guidelines, to better determine the most effective way to approach issues such as this.”
Heat island effect and mitigation strategies.
We need to look at long-term solutions, including what we can do to reduce global warming, pollution and the heat island effect. Populations in cities are at greater risk during heat waves due to the increased density of concrete, high buildings and higher pollution levels. In July 2005 Toronto City Council voted to prepare a ‘Heat Island Mitigation’ strategy that could mandate new roofs meet Energy Star requirements, that trees be planted to shade buildings and parking lots, and that energy conservation measures be targeted for low-income housing. One year later it is not clear which City manager or department has taken carriage of this issue. Councillor Paula Fletcher, co-chair of the Toronto Board of Health, has agreed to investigate. (email@example.com)
Looking Ahead: pilot programmes for 2007.
With the exception of John Andras (Project Warmth, TDRC co-founder, past-president of Downtown Toronto Rotary Club), it’s been hard to rouse interest from landlords, business or social services in air-conditioning / fan pilot projects. The obstacles appear to be environmental political correctness and increasing hydro costs. Every single person who has objected to the feasibility of developing an air conditioner / fan programme for vulnerable people has done so for environmental reasons or cited prohibitive hydro costs. Ironically, most of the people objecting work and live in air-conditioned settings.
Broad scientific research has shown that the greatest life-saving measure in an extreme heat emergency is access to air conditioning. Yes, it may raise hydro costs, but we are not talking about people who use cappuccino machines, food processors, hair dryers, computers, TV/VCR/DVD’s, or even an iron. In some cases we are talking about people who don’t even have a fridge or a stove. Poor and vulnerable populations tend not to be energy hogs.
A/C is no longer a luxury in extreme heat, not when indoor temperatures can reach 35 degrees Celsius and higher – it is a health issue. Let’s figure out ways to begin this work, through government or non-profit agencies. We need some real leadership on hydro rebates and other measures that will help tenants and landlords and people living on the streets, all of us, survive the killer heat.
Hopefully, with well-known environmentalist Elizabeth May, who actually uses the term ‘killer heat’, elected as the Green Party’s national leader, we should start seeing this important health issue on the federal agenda. For more information on Killer Heat go to www.tdrc.net
2. Displaced Persons: From New Orleans to Glace Bay
This month, in The Earth Policy
Institute newsletter, Lester Brown wrote:
This month, in The Earth Policy Institute newsletter, Lester Brown wrote:
Brown goes on to report that the New Orleans’ pre-Katrina population was 463,000 and in July 2006 it was only 214,000. Less than half of the pre-Katrina population returned. Numbers alone cannot capture what happened to the displaced people – their loss, their poverty, the upheaval for their families, and the disruption to their lives.
The other day, once again, I was reminded of the similarities between Katrina victims and Canadians who are homeless. I came out of a store near the St. Lawrence Market and a homeless man in his 40’s cried out to me in a strong Cape Breton accent “please will you get me a ride to Glace Bay ?”
In my early days as a Street Nurse
Pre-Katrina, 30 per cent of the
Katrina still has its scandals – empty trailers, delays, bungling of relief funds and rebuilding efforts, and nixed insurance claims. So too, Canada has its dirty side in how we deal with the victims of our homelessness disaster. Read on…
3. Disaster Relief Funds: The Feds Try Skipping Out On “Skippy” (SCPI)
Katrina hits. Federal disaster relief funds are needed. The Winnipeg flood hits. Federal disaster relief funds are needed. The Canadian ice storm hits. Federal disaster relief funds are needed. It’s obvious.
It was the ice storm that, in part,
led to the formation of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee in 1998 and
the declaration that homelessness was a man-made national disaster.
TDRC’s declaration called for two things.
The first, federal disaster relief funds needed to flow to the inner
While we still wait for our national
housing programme, disaster relief funds were realized in 1999 in the form
of the Supporting Communities Partnership Initiatives (SCPI – pronounced
for more info)
While we still wait for our national housing programme, disaster relief funds were realized in 1999 in the form of the Supporting Communities Partnership Initiatives (SCPI – pronounced ‘skippy’). (click here for more info)
This program provided much needed emergency funds for homeless services including shelters, food banks, soup kitchens, identification programmes and renovations. The program has been on, what leading housing advocate Michael Shapcott calls, a ‘death-watch’ for almost 18 months. It was due to die last year but was extended until March 2007.
In August 2006 a disaster of its own
played out across the country. SCPI
funding fell short, cheques
ranging from $367,000 (
In response to a major mobilization by community groups and municipalities across the country, Minister of Human Resources and Social Development Diane Finlay was forced to correct any ‘misunderstanding’ and promised the funds would be released to the end of the 2006 fiscal year, March 31, 2007.
The Disaster Relief Funds (SCPI) have not been able to correct the wrongs of the federal government’s cancellation of our national housing programme in 1993, but it is obvious that these disaster relief funds need to continue.
The program is still slated to end in March 2007. September 12th is a National Day of Action to save the Homeless Funds. Go to www.tdrc.net to see what you can do to help.
Is far from reality…..”
Chuck D singing “Hell No We
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