Heat Relief Network - Update
Ensuring access to cool spaces during the summer months is a critical part of building safe and healthy communities. We know that extreme heat can be dangerous, especially to vulnerable populations like seniors, children, and those experiencing homelessness. As the realties of extreme weather associated with a growing climate crisis continue to take hold, the City of Toronto and Toronto Public Health continue to work hard to address issues associated with extreme heat.
New this year, to help residents and visitors to Toronto stay healthy and safe in hot weather, the City has expanded the Heat Relief Network with more than 270 cool locations. These include both private and public spaces, and provide critical resources to those looking for cool spaces throughout the hot summer months.
However, as we continue our work to address extreme heat, we must ensure our expanded heat relief network is working for everyone. Earlier in July, I wrote to senior city staff to ensure our expanded system is serving those experiencing homelessness, as some of our communities' most vulnerable members.
In response, the City will be working to do the following:
Map system: Immediate improvements were made to the interactive map system at of the end of July. However, more improvements are set to come, including clear indication of relief network locations specifically targeted to those experiencing homelessness. Although difficult in the first year, I have asked that City staff continue to improve the map system to ensure that hours of operation and other key location information are included on the site.
Signage: Toronto Public Health has indicated that partners have been provided with signage in order to indicate participation in the heat relief network. However, I have asked that follow-up be conducted regarding actual usage of the signage.
Capacity, communication and outreach regarding heat relief services for homeless populations: In addition to changes to the map tool, communication is taking place with all shelter and respite locations during heat alerts to ensure everyone can access respite from the heat. Targeted outreach is also taking place, in partnership with the Fred Victor Centre, to homeless populations to: engage to check on well-being; provide information about effects of heat exposure; facilitate referrals to respite/shelter; distribute sunscreen and bottled water as needed; and more.
Staff, snacks and water: Toronto Public Health currently does not have the mandate to provide these items. This will be included as part of the review, mentioned below, this fall.
Despite the above, we know that more work is needed to ensure those experiencing homelessness can access safe, cool spaces during the extreme heat. I will continue to work on improvements to our heat relief network system in addition to the above, including addressing access to spaces, given capacity pressures in our shelters and respites.
As with any new program, we must thoroughly consider its effectiveness and continue to make improvements. In order to do this, Toronto Public Health will be conducting a review of the first year of the expanded heat relief network, and reporting to the Board of Health on the review this fall. As part of this report, I will be asking that issues identified in my initial letter to city staff are reviewed, with an eye to continued improvements next season.