Report – Extreme Weather Heat Response August 11 – 14, 2021 – 4-day heat wave

By Karen O’Shannacery/EWHR Lead

Environment Canada projected heat to hit up to 36 degrees with high humidity, and this forecast proved true. On August 11 and 12th temperatures were in the mid 30’s while the 13th decreased to 33° due to heavy smoke in the mid-late afternoon. Saturday brought significant relief with a bit of wind in the morning keeping the temperatures down to 29°. That difference was palpable with people picnicking, playing light games and hanging out in the park, whereas prior to that we found the park quite empty excepting for the City music activities. Especially on Friday we found people staying home to avoid the smoke with closed windows. Not surprising, as Friday wore on, we had three people with heat related illnesses requiring cold packs and other hot weather care. One woman reported her thermostat increased to 121° (49.5C) with her windows shut! As volunteers, we were all very grateful to be able to offer refuge from the
heat, and a little comraderie as they enjoyed our services, the misting
station and the shady spot. We operated from 11:30 – 6:30 daily
except Saturday, when we closed slightly earlier as everyone had left.

The cooling site, at the south-east corner of Burnaby Civic Square, was cool under the trees and canopies. It was a popular site with the misting station and free cold beverages. In addition to the free water, juice, sandwiches, fruit and goodie bags, we had free WIFI, thanks to the Library, available for people seeking services, and other supplies to help them stay healthy– e.g. free masks, sanitizer, sunscreen, hand-held fans & misters. While our focus is on people experiencing homelessness, we also aided others who were vulnerable to the heat and without alternate resources.

The Task Force tracks the number of people served. Each day, we count unique individuals. People who attend each day would be counted once per day therefore the total served during the opening are not unique individuals. During the four days open we served 333 persons, including a whopping 118 on Saturday as people returned to using the park. Not surprising, on Saturday we also ran out of food around 4:30 p.m., the first time we’d ever had that situation occur. The City had music in the park, and we believe that brought others for water and cooling. An average of 27% were people experiencing homelessness, although on Friday, 40 – 45% of the service users were homeless. Others primarily came from the surrounding community, escaping the heat in their apartments. The majority of people served were seniors, closely followed by the 55 – 65 age group, then the 40 – 55. All ages were represented, as were singles, couples and families.

There were health interventions for heat related conditions, and volunteers called an ambulance for an unconscious person found on Central. Other interventions included shelter and housing searches, victim services information, referrals to Progressive Housing and advocacy work. Progressive Housing’s Outreach Team came three days and provided additional services and support. 17 people received no service but took advantage of the tables and chairs.

The four days we were open were met with significant gratitude, and all of our amazing and generous volunteers feel this is an essential service and shared they were heart-warmed to be part of such a caring, community response. Thank you to the City for the location and support, without the location, we could not operate.

All of our services were volunteer run and donor supplied – and everyone worked tirelessly despite the heat, to make this a welcoming, safe and comfortable space. Special thanks to Mike for helping with each set up and take down, along with Peter and Len who came as much as possible.

Do you have a truck? We are still seeking two more volunteers with trucks and an hour in the morning or evening to join the team – many hands make lighter work!

Special thanks also to Hedy who came daily to set up and serve while also supporting the other CPR volunteers offering services and harm reduction supplies. So too is the sustaining support from Deer Lake United Church who once again supplied all the food, juices and goodie bags for two of the four days! That’s daily 58 sandwiches, 58 juices, 58 fruit, 58 goodie bags with pudding, granola bars, candy and juice! Your generosity is humbling – thank you Linda for all that organizing! Kudos also to Teresa and Shelley for the gourmet sandwiches and fruit they each provided on different days – the watermelon and peaches you supplied were highly appreciated! Also, a huge shout out to Ray and Hons Restaurant who over three days provided 180 beef sausage rolls that were a huge hit! Thanks to MLA Anne
Kang for organizing for the sausages and bringing them daily, hot and fresh
including from her own oven! We also appreciated MP Peter Julian who came with Anne with water donations along with the sausages!

As stated, this is a neighbour-helping-neighbour response, with huge support from the community: the Burnaby Salvation Army provided most of our water, Southside Community Church provided meals, Willingdon gave us lots of healthy bread loaves for distribution, and the City Security Team gave donut treats for the volunteers and others, with their appreciations and gratitude. Thanks so much Eugene and team, the donuts were also well savoured!

But our thanks extends to all our volunteers, many of whom returned a number of times to give aid – Diana, Gary, Gerlinde, Jason, Julia, Sean – I’d need another page to acknowledge the incredible support that all of you gave. And our newest volunteers – Cheryl-Lee, Fran and Gary who came when we needed.

The Task Force would also like to recognize and thank the volunteers who agreed to supply and operate the Cooling Site on August 15th – organized just in case the heat wave remained in effect. This includes the food providers, set up/take down volunteers as well as the service folk. Special shout out to them for being willing to provide, then being cancelled due to improved weather. Thank you, Jeffrey and Tian Jin Temple, Yasmeen, Peter, Hedy, Sean, Gerlinde and Teresa! You all had our backs!

Thank you one and all for successfully keeping people safe!

MP Peter Julian & MLA Anne Kang bring donations of water and sausages to cooling station

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