On Saturday, July 8, the City of Kamloops opened up the concourse at the Sandman Centre to provide Kamloopsians with a space to escape the heat after Environment and Climate Change Canada issued a heat warning for our region.
Heat warnings are issued when daytime temperatures stay at 35 C or above for two days or more and when nighttime temperatures do not dip below 18 C on those days – an occurrence becoming more common in British Columbia.
B.C.’s Extreme Heat Preparedness Guide explains that British Columbians are experiencing higher temperatures throughout the summer months and more extreme hot days than in the past due to the climate crisis. Average temperatures in this part of Canada are already reading one to two degrees warmer than they were in the 1940s.
When heat warnings are issued, cities like Kamloops are now required to launch regional heat alert response protocols under the Emergency Program Act (EPA) to assist folks in accessing resources like indoor and outdoor cooling spaces.
Extreme heat does not impact everyone equally. One group at higher risk of heat stroke is Kamloopsians experiencing homelessness. While unhoused residents aren’t the only group at higher risk of heat stroke, they may be at higher risk because of their exposure to the elements, mobility issues, social isolation and stigma or struggles with chronic health conditions.
That’s why when heat warnings are activated, the city works with the province, Interior Health, BC Housing and local partners like The Loop Resource Center and The Mustard Seed to protect some of Kamloops’ most vulnerable.
The Wren reached out to The Mustard Seed, The Loop Resource Centre and the City of Kamloops to determine what is being done to protect vulnerable community members when high heat hits Kamloops.
High heat, what’s the plan?
Extreme heat events like the heat dome in 2021, which caused unprecedented temperatures and ultimately killed 619 people across the province, are likely to happen more frequently, bringing with it concern for those living unhoused and others who are vulnerable.
Carmin Mazzotta, the city’s social, housing and community development manager reminds Kamloopsians that while unhoused folk are at risk of experiencing health-related issues due to high heat, a large portion of those who died during the 2021 heat dome were heat-vulnerable individuals who died inside, shedding light on the need to implement health checks on family, friends and neighbours.
Those who are heat vulnerable include the elderly, those who live in areas of high density with low greenness, people with disabilities, those who live in mobile homes or at recreation sites, those who are low-income and can’t purchase portable air conditioners or fans, those who live in older dwellings that gain and retain heat, pregnant people and infants and young children, Interior Health’s 2023 Heat Response Planning Toolkit for Southern B.C. Communities explains.
The 2021 heat dome and the resulting deaths have put pressure on municipalities like Kamloops to better plan and prepare for how heat impacts its most vulnerable residents.
The city’s heat alert response protocol, implemented in Jan. 2022, involves opening up indoor and outdoor cooling spaces, promoting health checks on neighbours and those who are at higher risk of heat stroke and sharing heat alert messaging before, during and after the activation of heat warnings through the city’s communication channels.
To find and support unhoused residents, the city must also coordinate outreach and response efforts with the shelter system, their outreach workers and the city’s community service officers (CSOs), says Katie Hutchins, The Mustard Seed’s community engagement and volunteer services manager, since outreach workers and CSOs often know community members best.
She says she believes the city is doing their best to work with The Mustard Seed and other agencies to determine where support is needed.
Through the CSO Outreach and Response Program, CSOs are paired with outreach workers from partner agencies within the city to connect unhoused residents with the shelter system and support services. This program runs 16 hours a day, seven days a week, explains Mazzotta.
In the summer, outreach includes handing out bottled water, wellness checks and transporting folks to shelters where water, air conditioning and other summer essentials can be accessed through the Envision shuttle program — although volunteers at The Loop say they’ve yet to see any patrons transported via the Envision shuttle thus far this summer.
Hutchins explains that an outreach worker, much like the city’s CSOs, works within the downtown core to check on and assist unhoused folk who are sleeping outside or camping along the river bank.
“He [the outreach worker] brings water bottles, granola bars, sunscreen, hygiene products and things like that with him,” she says. “If there’s any sort of medical situation or emergency, he also encourages people to go to the hospital or, if necessary, calls medical personnel to come and help.”
The Mustard Seed also operates The Gathering Place in partnership with the Kamloops Aboriginal Friendship Society and the city, where Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members are welcome to come and cool down at misting tents located at 48 Victoria St. West, Hutchins says. They hand out high heat essentials like water and sunscreen here, too.
Folks are also welcome to access The Mustard Seed’s day room at the outreach centre located at 181 Victoria St. West. Hutchins says community members can fill their bellies and access other services while they cool off in the air conditioning.
Unhoused residents of the North Shore particularly vulnerable
The Extreme Heat Preparedness Guide explains that it is of the utmost importance for community members to understand the risk high heat poses and urges municipalities to share information concerning where folks can access support.
With more and more people assuming it’s plenty safe to sleep outside because of cooler temperatures at night, Hutchins says she’s thankful that The Mustard Seed’s outreach worker and the city’s community service officers are out making connections and getting to know people who may not be accessing the day room at the Mustard Seed.
Like The Mustard Seed Outreach Centre, The Loop Resource Centre is also air-conditioned and provides a great place for folks to come and cool down, relax and eat on the North Shore.
“We provide water, food, summer essentials and cold treats like freezies,” says Danica Fletcher, a longtime volunteer at The Loop. “People are also welcome to access the spout outside if they’d like to soak their clothes as a way to cool down.”
Glen Hilke, The Loop’s coordinator, adds that chairs and tables are also left on the shady side of the building, which faces Tranquille Road, that folks are welcome to use if looking for a place to sit down and rest while avoiding the sun.
Hilke says that The Loop also provides patrons with refillable water bottles, cups, soap or anything else they may need to make hot and sweaty days more bearable.
People on the North Shore are particularly vulnerable to high heat due to what Hilke sees as a lack of outreach in proximity to The Loop, in comparison to the downtown core.
“People use the water faucet outside for various things because there’s no place on the North Shore for [unhoused residents] to take a shower except maybe ASK Wellness,” he says, adding this one faucet serves more than 100 North Shore residents who are unhoused.
“Public washrooms, again, garbage cans, showers, storage for people, all the things that the downtown community has access to, even in the most limited ways, does not exist on the North Shore,” Hilke says.
Beyond identifying who is most at risk during extreme heat and helping them access cooling services, the city is also tasked with long-term prevention strategies, as outlined by the province and Interior Health.
During the 2021 heat dome, people living in neighbourhoods with fewer social and material resources and fewer green spaces were more likely to die from extreme heat.
Preventative measures include creating public spaces to combat isolation, taking action on climate change and creating more green spaces. Research shows that urban tree canopies can lower surface temperatures by up to 12 C.
How Kamloopsians can offer a helping hand
Both The Mustard Seed and The Loop are in dire need of donations. From flats of water bottles, reusable water bottles, sunscreen, towels, summer clothing, baseball caps, deodorant, feminine products and women’s underwear, there’s a long list of items Kamloopsians can pick from if wanting to offer a helping hand.
Another way Kamloopsians can help out is by offering their time. Both agencies are always looking for volunteers, as well as the city. If interested in volunteering, don’t be afraid to reach out, as there is more than likely a way in which your skills could be used to benefit those in need.
Furthermore, the city suggests folks check out the resources listed on their website. There is a wealth of information provided to inform on how to perform health checks during extreme heat, prep your homes for extreme heat, find ways to cool down and spot signs of heat stroke which include but are not limited to rapid breathing and heart rate, altered levels of consciousness and extreme thirst.
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