Cold weather can be hazardous to health, and each year Canadians suffer injuries and die from exposure to the cold. Local municipalities have a role to play in establishing appropriate parameters for warming centres in order to protect the health and wellbeing of residents and visitors.
Supporting the Community During Cold Temperatures
Current parameters for activating cold weather warming centres in Ontario
- Environment Canada issues an extreme cold weather warning in Southeastern Ontario when the temperature or windchill is expected to reach minus 35°C for at least two hours.
- The criteria for activating a local cold weather response varies across health units and municipalities in Ontario.
- Some Medical Officers of Health send out cold weather alerts when the temperature reaches minus 15°C and others follow the Environment Canada extreme cold (ranges between minus 30°C to minus 40°C which varies by region).
- Some cities, such as Toronto and Ottawa, have increased their overnight shelter capacity, recognizing fewer shelter options are available due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recommendations for supporting those at a greater risk
1) If the temperature is expected to reach minus 5°C for at least two hours, it is recommended that communities activate their overnight warming centres.
- Rationale: Relief from cold should not require extreme temperatures, as hypothermia can begin at mild cold temperatures.
- Target population: People experiencing homelessness, specifically those without access to / or choose not to obtain overnight shelter.
2) When the temperature is expected to reach minus 10°C for at least two hours, HPEPH recommends activation of other programs for those experiencing homelessness, including opportunities to get relief from the cold in daytime hours.
- Rationale: There is an incremental benefit to increasing capacity for services provided to those who are unable to escape the cold through traditional options such as going inside.
- Target population: People experiencing homelessness, people living in homes that are poorly insulated (with no heat or no power), outdoor workers, people with certain medical conditions, infants (under 1 year), older adults (65 years or older).