Toronto’s Summer Heat Could Kill More Homeless People Than COVID-19
Welcome summer! Here’s hoping the new season brings with it not just longer days but better days. Spring was especially grey, understandably depressing and both physically and mentally taxing. While enjoying the impending increase in sunshine and brighter dispositions, remember that too much of a good thing can also be harmful, like too much sun, heat and humidity.
If there is any indication of what to expect this season, it was earlier this month when Toronto’s humidex hit 40°+, an all-time high for the date. On such occasions, air conditioning might be the best solution to beat the heat. For those without AC, especially those without a home, the heat can cause more problems than just discomfort. Extreme heat kills.
It is not uncommon to think that winter is the worst for people who are homeless, especially if your only point of reference is the season’s impact on your life. However, some of the darkest months of the year are July through September, a time in Toronto when the city often sees the greatest number of homeless deaths compared to all other quarters.
In 2018, the last full year for which the City of Toronto has stats available online, there were 31 homeless deaths in July, August and September combined – one homeless death every 3 days – which amounted to 30 percent more homeless deaths than January through March of the same year. Coincidentally, there were 33 days in 2018 when temperatures were 30° or higher.
There are over ten thousand people in Toronto who are homeless on any given day. The majority are men. The most vulnerable are elder homeless men in their 60s, 70s and 80s who suffer multimorbidity, food insecurity and have regular exposure to abuse and violence. Extreme heat just compounds their problems, beginning with the risk of dehydration.
Dehydration occurs when you use or lose more fluid than you take in, and your body doesn't have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions. If you don't replace lost fluids, you will get dehydrated.
Dehydration is associated with poor health outcomes including increased hospitalization and mortality. Even mild dehydration adversely affects mental performance and increases feelings of tiredness. Heat-related complications can include low blood pressure, dizziness and seizures, heat injury – from mild heat cramps to potentially life-threatening heatstroke – and kidney failure.
When combatting the summer heat and humidity, if air conditioning is not an option for the city’s homeless population then access to other life-saving resources are vitally important.
One facility, Haven Toronto, provides clients with free reusable water bottles and access to fresh water and sunscreen seven days a week. The downtown drop-in centre, which serves men age 50-plus who have been impacted by poverty and homelessness, also offers the services of a full-time nurse and crisis and housing counsellors.
The centre, which relies on donations to meet client needs, operates an online store – www.shophaventoronto.ca – where those who are more fortunate can 'Shop And Share' an array of items, everyday basics that are luxuries to people who are homeless, like reusable water bottles, socks and underwear and even meals. Shoppers receive a tax receipt and the comfort of knowing they are solving a problem and making a difference with their donation. At the same time, Toronto’s elder homeless men receive the resources and tools they need to beat the heat and survive on the street.