How Does Weather Changes Affect People Facing Homelessness?

Written by: Varleen Kaur

Edited by: Tvisha Shah & Jacqueline Cheung


Dear CCP readers,


Climate change is real, and its impact has become increasingly apparent in recent years. However, some are unfairly more impacted than others, most acutely, those facing homelessness. The least fortunate among us frequently bear the brunt of the effects of extreme weather, which climate change is causing in unpredictable ways. Unlike so many of us, people facing homelessness cannot retreat to the comforts of our homes in times of extremely high temperatures, torrential downpours, or ash from nearby wildfires. Mortality (life expectancy) and morbidity (life quality) of people facing homelessness are affected not only due to extreme hot and cold temperatures but other seasons and natural calamities as well.


Today’s post will provide an overview of how changes in weather and climate are affecting people who are facing homelessness.


If you are returning for more information regarding the current state of homelessness in Canada and the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) and the particular challenges faced by youth experiencing homelessness and those with animal companions, welcome back! If you are new to our blog, welcome to the community and thank you for your interest in learning more about issues regarding the homelessness crisis in Canada and beyond - you are one step closer to becoming a changemaker in your community, and you are in great company.


Globally estimated 100 million people are homeless today and 1.6 billion people lack adequate housing.


Different seasons come with various problems for individuals experiencing homelessness.


Summer


We just saw record-breaking high temperatures in North America this year. Extreme heat can be dangerous to anyone, but people living on the streets are more vulnerable as they often don’t have access to air conditioners and clean, cool drinking water, causing them to be more susceptible to heat strokes, heat cramps, and heat exhaustion.


Shelters often report “Summer Surge,” a phenomenon that increases demand for shelters in the summer months. Applications can increase up to 25 percent. There are various reasons behind this; for example, landlords may be more willing to evict families when it isn’t dangerous to remain outside during the summer, or relatives may not be able to accommodate children when they’re out of school in those months


Diseases transmitted to humans or animals by vectors like rats, ticks, and mosquitoes are known as vector-borne diseases and may be impacted by climate change. Factors like temperature, humidity, and rainfall can affect these organisms and the pathogens they carry. Greater disease transmission may arise from increased vector and pathogen populations, more vector breeding sites, and increased humidity and rainfall brought on by warming temperatures.


Heat-related sickness may develop when a person’s body cannot respond to the rise in temperature and cannot effectively cool off. This can also be called hyperthermia, when the core body temperature rises too high. It is hard to find free water and shelter where they will not be asked to move away. Many public places such as Tim Hortons and shopping malls are good options to escape the excessive heat outside, but families facing homelessness are not welcome to stay overnight.


Winter


The first yellow leaf marks the season of the fall. People gather together for thanksgiving dinners to embrace their beliefs and show gratefulness. It is the perfect time for hot chocolates and cosy blankets to stay inside, but only for those who have homes to go home to. For people experiencing homelessness, winter is no wonderland.


People facing homelessness frequently don't have access to essentials like warm shelter and insulating winter clothing. This is particularly true at night, when it can get very cold. More than 100 unhoused people died in Toronto this year. Some say the shelter system is ‘crumbling quickly’. This is a CBC news headline from December, 2021. One can imagine this is very much possible in the upcoming winter season or maybe even more adverse. Cold weather can cause hypothermia - when your body loses heat more quickly than it produces heat. According to the CDC, a low body temperature less than 95 degrees Fahrenheit can affect the brain and symptoms like memory loss, body shivering, slurred speech, drowsiness indicate hypothermia.


Frostbite is another risk for those in the cold for long periods of time. It can affect various parts of the body such as the ears, nose, fingers, and toes. The affected part can look like a lump of black coal and severe cases can even lead to amputation. Moreover, overcrowded congregate shelters always have a risk of outbursts of flu and viruses.


Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash


Spring


While many people associate spring with fresh starts, individuals facing homelessness face new difficulties. When you think about the worst weather, winter comes to the mind of most of us. In reality, spring could actually be worse.


As springtime approaches, more and more city roadways are lined with orange construction cones. With flowers blooming and trees blossoming, people are also spending more time outside. People are cleaning out their decks, bikes, and patio furniture. This sudden increase of people using the outdoors after long winters results in more visibility to individuals facing homeless. The season that, for many people, lifts them out of the emotional gloom and misery of winter, frequently does the opposite for them.


The most exposed and vulnerable people in the city are those who face homelessness. To ensure their survival throughout the night, they sleep all day long, remaining awake when the city sleeps to safeguard themselves and their possessions. However, with the overcrowded streets in spring season, it is difficult for people sleeping on streets to have peaceful rest during the day.


Surprisingly, people become less sympathetic towards the equity deserving folks during this time. During the winter and the holidays, people try to help by donating clothes, food, and time. However, in the spring season, people become less charitable and less compassionate, but the struggles do not decrease for those facing homelessness.


We cannot forget other disastrous natural calamities, such as hurricanes, storms, floods, and excessive rains. Last weekend on Friday evening, 23rd of September, Hurricane Fiona hit Atlantic Canada with winds of up to 160 km/hour with trees, power lines and even houses in a few towns that got washed away by the sea. People overfilled their pantries and took extra precautions. Individuals facing homelessness generally do not have the means to take the required protection. For example, Daniel Hoveys tent in Spryfield, Nova Scotia was flooded, and his belongings were soaked. As a visually impaired man facing homelessness and not knowing anyone in the city, it’s such a difficult task to start over. It is evident more support is needed for this population.


The city and government provide care, but there is always a lack of shelter options for people facing homelessness. Especially in these increasingly extreme weather conditions, a clear and articulate mobilisation plan is required.


Canadian Courage Project


CCP created a cold weather emergency fund earlier this year with your help we were able to donate the following items to the Good Shepherd in Hamilton!

- 34 pairs of mittens (15 mens, 15 womens, 4 childrens/youth),

- 28 pairs of winter socks (15 mens, 9 womens, 4 kids),

- 6 blankets

- 40 pairs of hand warmers


Precariously housed individuals were able to receive these warming items to help them get through the harsh winter we are currently experiencing. We wouldn’t have been able to achieve this without your support, we really appreciate it. We are looking forward to doing similar events in this upcoming winter.




Thank you for reading our blog post! We would love your input on future posts, comment what you would like to see next and like if you want more content similar to this!

Resources

Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, Feburary 8) Prevent Hypothermia & Frostbite. https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/staysafe/hypothermia.html Homeless World Cup. (n.d.). Global Homelessness Statistics. Retrieved October 4, 2022, from https://www.homelessworldcup.org/homelessness-statistics Jones, Patrick Ryan. Zandbergen, Rebecca. (2021, December 30). More than 100 unhoused people died in Toronto this year. Some say the shelter system is 'crumbling quickly. CBC news. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/homeless-deaths-toronto-2021-1.6300513


Rankin, Andrew. (2022, September 23). Halifax's homeless on edge for hurricane Fiona. Saltwire news. https://www.saltwire.com/atlantic-canada/news/halifaxs-homeless-on-edge-for-hurricane-fiona-100775967/

Samra, Steven. (2010). Beating the heat on the street. Homeless Hub. https://www.homelesshub.ca/resource/beating-heat-street




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