Most Canadians aren’t used to worrying about dangerously hot temperatures, especially in the Pacific Northwest. Heat waves however are becoming increasingly common. The effects of climate change doesn’t just mean we will experience warmer average temperatures, it also causes intense heat extremes with more frequent hot days and hot nights.
Some communities are affected by heat more than others. Researchers have identified a phenomenon called an ‘urban heat island effect’, where buildings located close together amplify and trap heat more efficiently than natural environments. Dense urban areas also generate their own heat from furnaces, air conditioners, and vehicles.
This is worrisome in the West End neighbourhood of Vancouver which has one of the highest concentrations of buildings and people in the region. Equally troubling, many West End residents live in older buildings with small apartments that don’t have air conditioning or benefit from cross breezes.
After last year’s heat dome and record-breaking temperatures, Gordon Neighbourhood House and the City of Vancouver partnered to prevent heat-related sickness and deaths on the downtown peninsula.
The City of Vancouver and Vancouver Coastal Health created a pilot program in partnership with local organizations to deliver ‘Cool Kits’ to members of our community who are more likely to suffer from heat-related illnesses. Organizations included neighbourhood houses, single occupancy hotels, Aboriginal Friendship Centres, food banks, and BC Housing sites.
The kits were prioritized for elders and seniors, neighbours with pre-existing health conditions, people with disabilities and mobility challenges, unhoused neighbours, and those who may be less likely to access air-conditioned spaces.
Each kit included a variety of items that could be used to better gauge indoor temperatures, and keep residents cool when the weather becomes hot.
Cool Kit Contents
- Plastic tote that can be used as a foot bath or sponge bath
- Wall thermometer to identify dangerously hot indoor conditions
- Gel packs that can be frozen or chilled and applied to the body to cool off
- Cooling towel that can be soaked in water and used to cool the body
- Spray bottle to cool the body
- Water bottle to stay hydrated
- User guide explaining how to use the items (available in multiple languages)
A copy of the PreparedBC Extreme Heat Preparedness Guide (available in multiple languages)
The spray bottles, cooling towels, gel packs, and water bottles were the most appreciated items! Many participants shared that the kits were very effective in combatting the hot and humid summer conditions in apartments without air conditioning.
We thank our participants, the City of Vancouver, and Vancouver Coastal Health for piloting this valuable initiative to support West End residents. We are eager to hear feedback from participants, and hope to deliver this program again next year.