Report – Extreme Weather Heat Response July 30 – August 4, 2021 – 6-day heat wave

By Karen O’Shannacery/EWHR Lead

Pop Up Extreme Weather Heat Response Cooling Location at Burnaby Civic Square

The sweltering heat, with highs that ranged from 31 – 34°, resulted in 320 visits to our open-air pop-up cooling centre over the six days open. Hours were 11:30 am – 6:30 pm, covering the hottest hours of the day. In general, most people came between 1:30 – 5 pm with the core hours being 2 – 4:30 pm although on the hottest days, people tended to stay later. Few came between 11:30 – 1:30 pm.

Our location, under trees and canopies at the south-east corner of Burnaby Civic Square, was great for reaching many people experiencing homelessness as well as providing cool shady support to a wide range of people escaping the heat of their apartments – all seeking refuge from the extreme heat. This cooling centre was in addition to four indoor, city run cooling stations and is an initiative of the Task Force To End Homelessness in Burnaby, guided by the homelessness extreme heat planning committee.

Services included the distribution of free water, food, juices, clothing, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, hygiene and harm reduction supplies. The cooling site also had a misting staJon, WIFI, cooling cloths and could loan out individual cooling fans/misters. We also offered resource information, including directing people to COVID-19 clinics, housing and service agencies.

It was an amazing six days that brought together many community members to care for others. All expressed their appreciation and gratefulness for the refuge from the heat. We counted attendees who received services although 14 others just came to use the shaded tables and rest. People who came twice or more in one day were also counted. We did not take names or ages, opting instead to estimate ranges and patterns. By attendee request, a decision was made not to count by gender, recognizing that assumption of gender is not a good practice. Initially a count of those using the misting station was attempted but the use was so steady that we did not track.

While most people who attended were 40 – 55 years of age, the second largest group were seniors. We also had families – including a one-year-old whose birthday was celebrated safely in the open, under the trees. Many pets were welcomed, provided water and for some, food as well.

People experiencing homelessness were approximately one-third of attendees, based primarily on self-disclosure, while some were people living with other health conditions. We had expected not to be able to serve the physically disabled, yet 9 unique individuals took advantage of the cooling space, as the ground supported the use of walkers, scooters, and a wheelchair.

By far the greatest demand was for water and food, but the misting staJon was extremely popular especially with the young and young at heart, especially in the middle of the afternoon! We had games for entertainment, but they were not used, although National Geographic magazines were a hit.

Emergency interventions were few. Thankfully only two persons needed heat related aid with cooling cloths and close monitoring. One woman experiencing homelessness came to us for safety and aid after being attacked. The RCMP and ambulance crew were very responsive and helpful, taking the woman to Burnaby Hospital. Our team of volunteers provided significant help: we provided first aid, Julia spent significant time successfully finding emergency shelter for after hospital discharge, and Sean provided that important comforting support and human touch throughout the incident. We did receive one complaint: a resident of the community came to express concern that our cooling station would result in more homeless people in the park, possibly leading to a homeless camp being established. He wanted us to ensure decision-makers were aware of this.

The cooling centre was entirely run by volunteers, including the CPR peers who were in attendance to assist people who required hygiene and harm reduction supplies. Special thank you to Hedy for her extensive work on this and to Sean! This was an essential safety service provided to 118 people, some of whom relied daily on this service. Hedy and Sean also conducted repeated outreach, taking water and necessiJes to people primarily at the Metrotown Skytrain station to ensure people were well hydrated and their basic needs met.

All our supplies were donated – including the sandwiches, fruit, juices and goodies that were so generously provided by Deer Lake United Church (Linda, you & your team rock!), Val Liddle (who singly provided for 1 1⁄2 days), Zara Thomas (also singly provided gourmet sandwiches & friends who provided fruit & juices) and Southside Community Church. A huge shout out to each of them for providing the well-appreciated food with little notice! The Salvation Army contributed water, Homelessness Services Association BC provided a missing kit replacing our jury-rigged system, Burnaby Library provided the WIFI. Burnaby Neighbourhood House loaned staging space for all our equipment and supplies. Special thanks to the City for providing the location, porta-pokes, access to water for the misting station (yeah Steve!), while City security popped by to ensure we were good and to help (Jimmy was awesome!). Tina, a Fraser Health Psychiatric Nurse, dropped by repeatedly and provided additional support. Progressive Housing popped by to provide follow up and Dilpreet, from Burnaby Community Action Table, brought two containers filled with ice. Awesome! Erica from the Division of Family Practice came by to support, volunteer and give well-received volunteer shirts.

We particularly want to thank the volunteers who on very short notice came together to make this happen. It didn’t matter what the tasks were: ranging from the daily set up and take down, offering service, the making of the sandwiches, transport of food and equipment such as the canopies, tables and chairs, etc. volunteers were committed to serving and helping others – and many of them helped repeatedly. They gave the time that they could, and then some! A huge shout out to Mike who volunteered each morning and afternoon to not only set up and take down, but to also transport everything, and picking up ice while he was at it!

Thank you everyone – because of your efforts, many were helped.

Download the Report here in PDF form: