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January 7, 2004
Extreme cold weather alert called (revised)
  
Toronto Hostel Services has issued the first extreme cold weather alert of the
2003/2004 winter season to help get homeless people in from the cold. The alert
is effective today, January 7 and tomorrow, January 8, 2004.

An alert goes into effect when Environment Canada:
· predicts a temperature of -15 C or lower, without wind chill
· issues a wind chill warning for outdoor activity for people in the Toronto
area
· predicts extreme weather conditions, such as a blizzard or ice storm.

Under the alert, the following extra services are available to help homeless
people:
· 100 additional emergency sleeping spaces in Toronto shelters
· enhanced street outreach services, including emergency transportation to
shelters, provided by Anishnawbe Health Toronto, Red Cross, Native Men's
Residence and St. John Ambulance
· distribution of additional TTC tickets through drop-in centres and outreach
agencies to help homeless people reach shelters.

The Street Helpline service at 1-866-392-3777 also operates 24 hours a day to
let homeless people and front-line workers know where to find shelter and other
services. Members of the public can also call this number if they see a
homeless person sleeping outside.

This is the eighth year the extreme cold weather plan has been in place. Last
year, nine alerts totalling 40 days were in effect. "We are working on many
fronts to address homelessness," said Elaine Smyer of Toronto Shelter, Housing
and Support. "But when the temperature drops to these levels, our first
priority is to ensure the immediate safety of our most vulnerable citizens."

A team works throughout the winter to monitor weather conditions on the street.
Team members include representatives from Toronto Shelter, Housing and Support,
Toronto Public Health, Toronto Emergency Medical Services, the Canadian Red
Cross Society, Native Men's Residence, Anishnawbe Health Toronto, St. John
Ambulance, Community Information Toronto, Street Helpline and the Toronto
Police Service.

Backgrounder: January 2004

Services for homeless people in Toronto

The City of Toronto provides emergency shelter, street outreach, drop-ins,
eviction prevention and hostel diversion programs. Programs alone will not
resolve homelessness. Much more must be done to address the underlying causes
of homelessness and increase the supply of affordable housing.

The following is a summary of City of Toronto services for homeless people.

Hostels
Together, the City of Toronto and dozens of community partners provide shelter
for thousands of homeless families, single adults and youth. In addition to
shelter beds and daily meals,
City-owned or -funded hostels provide personal needs allowance, case
management, counselling, job and housing search services, children's
programming, follow-up and harm reduction services for people with addictions
and/or mental health issues.

Community Support
Out of the Cold:
Many churches, synagogues and agencies and one hospital provide accommodation
for adults and youth at different locations every night of the week. The City
of Toronto provides funds to cover staffing and administration, and to
co-ordinate the services of participating Out of the Cold sites.

Street Outreach:
The City of Toronto, through various programs, provides funding to
community-based agencies to provide services for homeless people. These
agencies provide street outreach, information and high-support referrals to
people living out of doors. The City's priority is to help people on the street
gain access to shelter, housing, drop-ins and other homeless programs and
services.

Drop-ins:
Dozens of organizations provide drop-in services for homeless people
year-round. Drop-ins provide entry points to the health and social service
system, as well as to employment and housing opportunities. They often function
as a substitute home for many single homeless and socially isolated people by
providing refuge from the cold and a place to rest, have a meal, take a shower,
do laundry and meet people. They also help people with health and mental health
problems through on-site nursing services and crisis intervention.

Prevention:
The City provides support for community-based agencies to help individuals
obtain and/or retain affordable, adequate and stable housing. Services include:
housing vacancy information; tenant-landlord mediation; counselling on housing
issues including eviction prevention; advocacy with income support programs;
and community follow-up.

Co-ordination:
The City helps plan and co-ordinate the homeless service sector through a
number of advisory and consultative committees such as the Advisory Committee
on Homeless and Socially Isolated People, Alternative Housing & Services
Committee, Rooming House Work Group, Aboriginal Steering Committee, and Refugee
Housing Task Force.

Health
Several organizations work with homeless people on physical and mental health
issues throughout the year, including Street Health, St. Michael's Hospital and
the Gerstein Centre.

Let's Build
"Let's Build" is an action-oriented program established by the City of Toronto
to help get affordable housing built. Since the spring of 2000, Let's Build has
helped put more than 1,000 affordable and transitional housing units in the
pipeline. Toronto Council has adopted production targets of 1,350 housing units
for the period of 2001-2003. With more help from the federal and provincial
governments, more units could be built more quickly.

Information Services
Community Information Toronto (CIT) operates Street Helpline at 1-866-392-3777
year-round to help homeless people gain access to shelter and services. CIT
also provides general information about services through its Blue Book - the
directory of community services in Toronto - and a general inquiry line at 211.

Fact Sheet

Handling the cold and hypothermia

· Maintain a heated environment (City law requires landlords to maintain an
adequate heat level of 20 C/68 F between September 15 and June 1 of each year).

· Wear layers of warm, dry clothing including hat and gloves.

· Cover exposed skin surfaces as protection from frostbite (numbness, red-white
nose, chin, fingers, forehead, stiff cheeks); warm affected areas gradually by
wrapping or placing next to warm skin; do not rub.

· Be aware of hypothermia (body temperature of 35 C/95 F or less). Signs
include stiff muscles, puffy face, slurred speech, shivering uncontrollably,
slowed breathing, poor physical condition and mental confusion. If these signs
are recognized, call 911.

· Drink non-alcoholic beverages such as tea, coffee, hot chocolate or soup.

· Maintain good nutrition and get plenty of rest.

· Prescription drugs may increase vulnerability to cold. Check with your doctor
or pharmacist.

· Be aware of elderly and disabled people living alone; offer assistance.

· It is dangerous to use an oven as a heating device. All space heaters are a
fire risk if used improperly.

· If you are a homeless person who is at risk in severely cold weather, call
the Street Helpline at 1-866-392-3777 to help you find shelter and services.

Source: Toronto Public Health

Qs & As: Extreme cold weather alerts

Q. Who monitors the weather?

A. Toronto Shelter, Housing and Support, Emergency Preparedness Unit monitors
weather forecasts daily from November 15 to April 15. Unit staff will then
advise the Director of Hostel Services when an alert may need to be called.

Q. What exactly happens during a cold weather alert?

A. The approach depends on the types of services needed at the time. However,
there is a core response for each alert.

1. Toronto Hostel Services calls an alert which increases service to homeless
people when Environment Canada predicts the following conditions:
a) daily predicted low of -15 C without wind chill; or
b) the wind chill reaches the level at which Environment Canada issues a
warning for outdoor activity for people in the Toronto area (in technical terms
this occurs when the wind chill and the temperature produce a wind chill factor
over 1800 watts per square metre); or
c) extreme weather conditions, such as a blizzard or ice storm.

2. When an alert is called, this is what occurs:
a) Shelters are notified that an alert has been declared, and extra spaces are
opened in shelters across the city of Toronto, if necessary.
b) Shelters are reminded of extra services they could provide, e.g., extra
food, clothing, leniency in curfews.
c) Street outreach services are increased to get word to homeless people about
the extra services.
d) The Canadian Red Cross, Anishnawbe Health Toronto, Na-Me-Res and St. John
Ambulance provide street outreach and emergency transportation to homeless
people trying to reach services/hostels.
e) Additional TTC tickets are made available to homeless people to assist them
in reaching services/hostels.
f) Other agencies that provide services to homeless people, such as drop-ins,
are notified of the alert.

Community Information Toronto operates its Street Helpline 24 hours a day
(1-866-392-3777) from November 15 to April 15 to provide information to
homeless people on services and overnight shelter.

Q. Will this program prevent homeless people from sleeping, and possibly dying,
on the streets in severe weather?

A. The enhancement of services should result in fewer people sleeping outside
in very severe weather. However, some homeless people may not want or be able
to accept help until they have established a trusting relationship with staff
or outreach workers. There is no guarantee no one will die during an alert,
despite these extra services.

Q. Will homeless people who are sleeping out of doors be picked up and taken to
shelter?

A. The City does not use forced removal in this situation. Forced removal can
result in homeless people retreating from services that have helped them in the
past. However, trained street outreach workers will encourage homeless people
to go to a shelter, and will help them get there by arranging transportation or
providing TTC tickets. Outreach workers contacting homeless people during
extreme cold weather will come from agencies that have established
relationships with them. This should result in more homeless people voluntarily
coming into temporary shelter.

Q. Why does Hostel Services call an alert at -15 C?

A. The -15 C temperature was chosen after a review of the weather conditions
that preceded the deaths of three homeless people in 1995, and of severe winter
weather conditions between 1992 and 1996. There is no clear medical evidence on
what constitutes extreme and potentially harmful weather. Factors such as wind,
snow, clothing, overall health and alcohol levels combine to create a
potentially harmful situation. For some people, hypothermic injury or death can
occur at temperatures as high as 5 C.

Q. If the temperature stays at -15 C or lower, longer than expected, is the
alert extended?

A. An extreme cold weather alert is a short-term, emergency response. It is not
intended to replace longer-term solutions to problems faced by homeless people.
Extended services can last up to a few days.

Q. What should the public do to help when an alert is called?

A. The public can call Street Helpline service at 1-866-392-3777 if they know
of anyone who may need assistance and anyone wanting to help throughout the
year can call Community Information Toronto at 211 for information on
volunteering and donating. Volunteers and donations are needed throughout the
year, but the public should not call specific agencies to offer help during an
alert.

Q. How many homeless people are there?

A. More than 30,000 people are expected to use emergency shelters in 2003 in
the City of Toronto. There is no figure available for the number of homeless
people who are actually on the street.

Q. Where did the extreme cold weather initiative come from?

A. This strategy, first implemented in the winter of 1996/97, arose from a June
1996 report of the Homeless Emergency Action Task Force (HEAT) to respond to
the increased number of homeless people who need services. The strategy was
developed in consultation with social service agencies, volunteers, homeless
people and government representatives. Over the winter of 2002/2003, Toronto
Hostel Services called nine alerts covering 40 days.

Q. Homeless people are at risk all year round. Will this strategy be used at
other times
of the year?

A. This particular initiative is intended to address only one part of the range
of issues and problems faced by homeless people. Work continues year-round to
provide services to homeless people. Protocols also exist to ensure that
homeless people have increased access to critical services during heat alerts
in the summer months.

Media contacts:
Elaine Smyer, Manager, Emergency Planning, Toronto Shelter, Housing & Support,
416-397-1384; after hours 416-714-2730
Cynthia Ross, Partnership Development, Toronto Shelter, Housing & Support,
416-392-0546
Rosemary Bennett, Manager, Communication, Toronto Community and Neighbourhood
Services, 416-392-8386; pager 416-328-4402



 

 

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