Vancouver heat wave poses risk to vulnerable people


High temperatures from the record-breaking heat wave hitting B.C. are posing additional risks for more vulnerable people, including seniors, people with chronic illnesses, and those without homes.


At the Union Gospel Mission in Vancouver, the heat outside has outreach workers stocking up on water bottles and other hot weather supplies and heading out to help people cool off. The non-profit’s spokesperson Rachael Allen said workers want to do what they can to make sure people don’t suffer in the heat.


“We’ve seen people even suffer from heat exhaustion, heat stroke, dehydration,” she said. “Even folks who are in poverty living in SROs, for example, that don’t have the kind of cooling systems that you might need to keep yourself cool, we saw last summer led to, unfortunately, a few deaths.”


The charity is providing outreach on foot and in vehicles, as well as setting up tents nearby for additional shade and providing information handouts letting people where to find water and cooling centres in the area.


“These kinds of heat events can kind of come up very quickly and people often are not prepared,” she said. “People experiencing homelessness don’t have access to a tap or a fan or AC or anything, and the heat just bears down on you.”


The Union Gospel Mission is looking for donations of sunscreen, sunglasses, light-coloured T-shirts and reusable water bottles, in hopes of helping people stay healthy in the heat.


HEALTH CONCERNS


Though this heat wave isn’t matching the temperatures seen during last year’s heat dome, it has prompted health warnings. The most vulnerable include seniors, people with chronic illnesses, those living alone or without air conditioning, and people without homes.


Fraser Health medical health officer Dr. Emily Newhouse said checking on indoor temperatures is important, especially considering how the heat can build inside when it’s hot for days.


“I would say 31 degrees is the danger zone. If your home is getting that hot, find somewhere else to go where it’s cool,” she said. “Things like mental health issues or substance use can also put us at higher risk. So if you’re someone who has chronic conditions, is older, or if you have people in your life who are in one of those categories, those are folks to really make sure they have a good heat plan and check in on.”


Heat-related illness can range from mild to severe. Some signs include heavy sweating, headaches, muscle cramps and increased body temperature. 


Newhouse said people also shouldn’t rely solely on fans to cool them down indoors.


“Fans are really good at moving cool air somewhere else, so for example, putting them in your window and bringing cool air at night. But what we’ve realized is that fans are not a super effective way to cool someone’s body when you’re aiming it right at someone’s body,” she said. “Especially for seniors and other people who are at really high risk. Fans just don’t lower body temperature enough to be an effective intervention on their own.”


Newhouse said people can also use water to cool off: by misting clothes, using damp towels, taking a cool bath or putting their feet in cool water. However, if the indoor temperature is overly high, her advice is still to go somewhere cooler.