Street nurse decries lack of cooling centres during Toronto's hottest day of summer

As Toronto sweats under the hottest day of summer so far, a street nurse says the city's decision to eliminate cooling centres is failing vulnerable populations.

The city has a list of 300 spaces people can cool down

Roxie Danielson, a street nurse in Toronto, said cooling centres offered support to vulnerable populations. (CBC)

As Toronto sweats under the hottest day of summer so far, a street nurse says the city's decision to eliminate cooling centres is failing vulnerable populations.

Unlike previous years, the city has stopped operating seven dedicated cooling centres during heat warnings, which offered air conditioning, snacks, water and had trained staff.

Instead, the city says it has expanded a network of already-existing places where people could cool down, listing around 300 places including libraries, splash pads, shopping malls and YMCAs on its website

Roxie Danielson, a street nurse in Toronto, raised alarms earlier in the summer — and says that she's continuing to see the new system fall short.

"What I'm seeing so far is this strategy is failing people," she said on Saturday. She says one of her clients told her he was kicked off a splash pad and she's heard similar stories from others.

"Some of my clients tell me they don't feel comfortable" in places like shopping malls, Danielson said. "They feel like they don't belong."

Vulnerable people, like those experiencing homelessness, may not always be welcome in places like splash pads, Danielson said. (CBC)

The city says that the "heat relief network" is about creating more spaces for people to cool off closer to where they live.

While splash pads might be geared toward kids, the city said places like libraries, community centres and respite centres are available to more vulnerable groups. Cooling centres were only open during heat warnings, the city says, and were not in convenient locations for all people.

Previously, the city would operate one of its cooling centres 24 hours during heat waves. The city now says shelters and 24-hour respite centres are available for people experiencing homelessness.

Shelters already overcrowded, nurse says

Danielson said shelters are already overcrowded and extreme heat can continue overnight. She added that snacks, water and dedicated staff aren't available in the city's list of pre-existing spaces — "They're not real places to support people."

"This heat is so deadly and it continues even overnight, so we need places 24 hours," she said.

Toronto Public Health has said it is trying out a "proactive" strategy for helping vulnerable people during particularly hot weather. Staff who were once homeless themselves will talk to people around drop-in centres, shelters and respite sites, providing resources and connecting them with other places to cool down.

The city says the facilities that formerly served as cooling centres will still be available during regular hours.

Hottest day of summer so far

Environment Canada issued a heat warning for Toronto on Saturday, with daytime highs of 34 C on Saturday, feeling more like 44 with the humidex. The heat continues overnight, feeling like more than 30.

On Saturday afternoon, several people gravitated to the water to cool off.

"I don't think malls are a substitute for a cooling centre," said Mary Beth MacMillan, who was out having a picnic on Saturday.

"The other benefit to having a cooling centre is that there's a community environment [...] Needs are kept in mind specific to that population."

A person rests on a picnic table during the Toronto heat on Saturday. (CBC)

Danielson said the cooling centres weren't perfect, but they were better than nothing.

"With shelters closing, with this housing crisis getting worse, more and more people are going to end up in the streets or in overcrowded shelters," she said.

"We're going to see a lot more deaths so we need to act now."


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