City to increase cooling centres to offer more relief during periods of extreme heat
The effort is part of a pilot project to create what's being dubbed the Heat Relief Network.
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There's no telling yet if this summer will be as mild as last year's, but Toronto wants to be better prepared for extreme heat in the future.
The city's Board of Health adopted a proposal on Monday to increase the number of cooling spaces across the city. The effort is part of a pilot project to create what's being dubbed the Heat Relief Network.
For the past few years, the city has operated seven cooling centres every time a heat warning was in effect to aid people without air conditioning, the homeless and anyone else who needs relief. At these centres, people can find refuge from the heat as well as drinking water, light snacks and information on avoiding heat-related health risks.
But access is limited, due to the small number of cooling centres and their locations throughout the city, Toronto's medical officer of health Eileen de Villa explained at the board meeting.
"Many parts of Toronto are still not served, and that's why we need to expand the program," she said, noting only one cooling centre (Metro Hall) is open on a 24-hour basis.
Extreme heat is responsible for an average of 120 deaths per year in Toronto, according to Toronto Public Health.
The Heat Relief Network pilot will look to expand cooling centres to more than 200 locations this summer — including library branches, seniors' centres, museums, various city buildings as well as the facilities of non-profit and faith-based organizations. A review will be presented to the city by early 2019.
The cooling centres will employ staff with lived experience of homelessness and an understanding of how to provide a welcoming and supportive environment, according to a staff report.
De Villa said many other major cities in North America operate similar programs. Last year there were only 2,714 visits to Toronto's cooling centres, but it was an uncharacteristically mild summer and the centres were open only seven times, she said.
Street nurse and homeless advocate Cathy Crowe said the pilot project is a welcome move but it should also ensure the centres have enough resources for vulnerable people.
"Two summers ago they opened a cooling centre at Metro Hall but didn't put any staff or resources in. It was literally just tables set up and a sign, no granola bars or bottles of water," she said.
"These are vulnerable people who are poor, live in rooming houses and have no money to buy food or a refillable bottle of water."
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