Cold weather alert catches those who help the homeless by surprise, street nurse warns
Temperatures expected to feel like –17 overnight with the wind chill
It might not be technically winter yet, but the city is still issuing an extreme cold weather alert amid a frigid blast in Toronto, and a street nurse is warning the unseasonably cold temperatures have caught those who serve the homeless off guard.
Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto's medical officer of health, said in a statement on Tuesday that the alert will be in effect until further notice.
The city says it issues cold weather alerts when Environment and Climate Change Canada is calling for temperatures of –15 C or colder, or wind chill values of –20 or colder.
Environment Canada's current forecast is calling for slightly warmer temperatures than that, but not by much. Tuesday night's low is expected to be –12 C, with wind chill values making it feel more like –17 overnight.
Wednesday's forecast is calling for a high of –4 C, and wind chill values of –15 in the morning rising to –6 in the afternoon.
'People can freeze and die on the streets'
Roxie Danielson, a street nurse, said the cold has caught people by surprise and the shelters and respite centres in Toronto are full.
"Having nowhere to go in this weather, people can freeze and die on the streets," she said.
She said organizations that serve homeless people do not yet have winter gear yet to hand out.
"People are really cold and unprepared," she added.
Alerts trigger services to get people inside
Extreme cold weather alerts allow for the activation of services that focus on getting vulnerable residents inside.
A warming centre is open at Metro Hall by 7 p.m. the day an alert is called, and remains open continuously until noon on the day an alert is cancelled.
Danielson said there is a need for the Metro Hall warming centre to expand. If it could add cots and serve hot meals, that would be welcome, she said.
Other services include overnight street outreach and transit tokens made available in some drop-in centres.
The city is asking residents to help vulnerable people by calling 311 if street outreach assistance is needed, or to call 911 in an emergency.