The PHS team is innovating to protect vulnerable people from the temperature extremes that are quickly evolving into the ‘new normal’.

Extreme weather hits marginalized people the hardest. The Downtown Eastside has less shade and green spaces than wealthier parts of Vancouver and is noticeably hotter in summer.

It’s known as an urban heat island effect, with asphalt and concrete acting like radiators in a heatwave.

The BC Coroners Services attributed 619 deaths across the province to last summer’s extreme heat.

“We found the most important thing with the heat dome was to increase staff supports for residents,” said PHS Housing Director Tanya Fader. “We helped people keep cool by providing fans and putting air conditioning units in common areas, and in the rooms of the most medically vulnerable people.

“Staff were also bringing water and electrolyte drinks and ice pops.”

Looking ahead to summer 2022, the lessons from the heat dome response have been turned into a PHS heat protocol, activated when the outside temperature hits 26 degrees C. This includes wellness checks and protocols to prevent staff overheating.

“If staff last summer had not been doing wellness checks there would have been deaths,” said Tanya. “They identified people who were dehydrated, and some were taken to the ICU.

“People with schizophrenia are probably the most vulnerable, because of how they read their bodies.

“We also have to be aware of staff responding to overdoses in extreme heat, particularly providing CPR.”

The team is also preparing by stocking up on fans and air conditioning units in advance, before stocks dwindle amidst soaring temperatures. They are also at work blocking out skylights, and preparing to install cooling areas in common spaces and misting stations on patios, courtyards and sidewalks.

In the year-round freak weather we’re experiencing, the expectation is for the soaring summer temperatures to be followed by unseasonal winter cold. Vancouver recorded -16 degrees C late December 2021.

Emergency shelter spaces

“We created additional spaces for people at New Fountain Shelter,” said Tanya. “It’s not 24-hour, so we provided warm clothing and extra food for guests, linking them with resources for staying warm like community centres.

“At The Osborn, we were able to place cots in the lobby area and activate the programming area – we said to people to bring their sleeping bag and sleep on a chair.”

Both extreme heat and unseasonal cold are particularly dangerous for people who are socially isolated.  We are working hard to help prepare our communities and bring safety through connection.