'Cool places' provide 'vulnerable' Hamiltonians with a space to chill

The city and partner community organizations have opened cooling stations for people who need to escape the heat.
Located on King Street East at Wellington, the Freeway is one of about a dozen sites that have partnered with the city to provide free “cool places” for Hamiltonians during heat advisories. (Cory Ruf/CBC)

A middle-aged man steps to the counter at the Freeway Coffee House, pouring himself a cup of water to bring back to his seat.

He's spending Tuesday afternoon there to get out of his apartment in the attic of a small downtown building. Unemployed and on the job hunt, he can't afford to install an air conditioner.

"Where I'm living is warm — overwarm — and I don't have a way of cooling down," he said. "If I didn't have a place like this to go to, I'd be sickly."

He's one of about a half dozen people who come inside to escape the heat, which, with the humidity, felt like 40 degrees for a second consecutive day. The City of Hamilton issued a heat advisory on Sunday, and it's stuck until Tuesday.

Temperatures are expected to continue Wednesday, reaching a high of 33 C with a risk of thunderstorms in the afternoon. Highs in the 30s are expected to last until the weekend.

Related: City issues Stage Two heat advisory

Affiliated with the Salvation Army, the Freeway, one of about a dozen sites that have partnered with the city to provide free "cool places" for Hamiltonians, especially those with low incomes, seniors and people in poor health, during heat advisories.

Everybody's welcome

"We accept anybody, anytime, whether it's the cold weather or the hot weather," said Rochelle White, the café-cum-community-centre's acting manager.

Community Partner Cool Places

  • Canadian Legion 163, 435 Limeridge Rd. E
  • Crossfire Assembly, 458 King St. W
  • East Kiwanis Boys and Girls Club of Hamilton, 45 Ellis Ave.
  • Hamilton Urban Core Community Health Centre, 71 Rebecca St.
  • Roxborough Senior Centre, 785 Britannia Ave.
  • St. Matthew's Senior Centre, 402 Barton St. E
  • The Freeway, 333 King St. E
  • Mountain Citadel, 835 Stone Church Rd.
  • Meadowlands Church, 187 Stone Church Rd.
  • Wesley Urban Ministries, 155 Queen St. N
  • Wesley Centre, 195 Ferguson Ave. N

"We allow people to come in to warm up, cool off, whatever it takes, because we want to be in the community and part of the community to provide services."

In addition to enlisting "cool place" partners in the community, the city encourages people needing respite from the sun to drop into public libraries, recreation centres and service offices, for a blast of air conditioning during heat advisories.

The consequences of not giving "vulnerable" populations a place to cool off would be dire, said Janet Robinson, the coordinator of the city's heat response program.

"We'd be very worried about our community. We'd be very worried about people who have health issues and about people who might not know how to care for themselves in these heat situations."

On Tuesday, the city was still to a Stage Two heat advisory, meaning the outside temperature felt like 40 degrees with the humidity for more than two days. Prolonged exposure to high temperatures can cause heat stroke and dehydration, conditions which, if left untreated, could lead to unconsciousness or even death.

Though the program is targeted at "vulnerable" populations such as seniors, low-income families and the homeless, anyone may use it, Robinson stressed.

"Anybody can be vulnerable in the heat," she said.  "But some people can be more vulnerable than others."

Raising awareness

On Tuesday at about 1 p.m., only about a half dozen community members were using sitting in the café, even though the temperature outdoors felt like a toasty 38 degrees, raising questions about how well the "cool place" program is advertised.

City of Hamilton Cool Places

  • Recreation centres
  • Spray Pads and Wading Pools
  • Public beaches
  • Outdoor Pools (Hours extended starting at Heat Warning Stage 2)
  • Hamilton Public Library branches
  • Municipal service centres
  • City Hall

An hour earlier, at Crossfire Assembly church on King Street West, no one was in the building to take advantage of the church's cool place program.

"We haven't had a lot of demand to be honest," said the church's pastor, Rev. Patti Miller. "I think if people can get to a mall or a library, they would prefer to go there, and that's fine.

"But every now and then, we have people coming by and they usually have another reason that they're here. And then they just say, 'Listen, can I stay hang out a little bit longer and get in the air conditioning?' "

However, she lauds the city as well as local community groups for promoting the program and raising awareness on the need to care for neighbours who might be vulnerable in the hot weather.

"It keeps reminding all of us anyway to call each other to make sure people are safe in this kind of heat, whether they end up in this cooling station or somewhere else."