Seniors left sweltering in N.S. public housing: ‘I’m scared of getting a stroke’

Click to play video: 'Seniors home struggles without air conditioning amid heat wave'
Seniors home struggles without air conditioning amid heat wave
Some are calling on the Nova Scotia provincial government to provide air condition in government-owned seniors' homes as the first heat waves of summer engulfs the region. As Skye Bryden-Blom reports, one senior says she's worried the consequences could be dire if she doesn't get access to cool air. – Jun 20, 2024

Difficulty breathing, sweat “pouring down your back,” and a genuine fear of dying.

These are the feelings of a Nova Scotia senior who lives in provincially-subsidized housing during the hot summer months.

“I’m scared of getting a stroke,” said Cheryl Poole, who lives on the 10th floor of the Dartmouth apartment building.

“With this heat, we don’t know what to do. We have to stay in because we have no other choice because we don’t want to be in direct sunlight. And what do you do? … We can’t live this way.”

Poole says she has two fans running at all times — but it’s all in vain. The apartment units are not equipped with air conditioning, and the lack of ventilation means the entire building is simply sweltering.

To make matters worse, the Halifax-area — along with the rest of the province — is in the midst of a three-day heat warning issued by Environment Canada.

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Maximum temperatures on Thursday was expected to reach 34 C, with a humidex value of 37 to 43.

Poole says she and the other seniors in her building should be enjoying “our golden years,” but instead, “we’re suffering through this.”

And the consequences, she adds, are deadly.

“It seems to me in the summertime, the deaths in the building go up. We lost six (residents) last year,” she said. “So I mean, what do you do?”

Calls to provide air conditioning

Poole’s story was highlighted on Thursday by the Nova Scotia NDP, which is calling on the province to provide air conditioning in government-owned seniors’ housing.

NDP Leader Claudia Chender points to British Columbia, which committed $10 million in funding over three years for free air conditioners for vulnerable residents.

“When B.C. experienced extreme heat, there were literally hundreds of seniors who died because they didn’t have access to an air-conditioned space,” said Chender.

“As an antidote to that, they announced a program to provide air conditioning.”

The NDP has also tabled legislation in 2022 that would require the installation of air conditioning in long-term care homes.

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Seniors’ advocates agree something needs to be done to help vulnerable populations.

“We have an aging population and it’s time for us to look forward and make sure they’re protected and able to enjoy their quality of life,” said Cecile Cassista, the executive director of Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents’ Rights.

“When you are in this kind of situation, you’re not enjoying quality of life.”

Click to play video: 'Millions of Canadians remain under heat warnings'
Millions of Canadians remain under heat warnings

During a news conference in regards to a separate announcement Thursday, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing John Lohr told reporters the province has been “investing billions of dollars in energy efficiency.”

“We’ve installed heat pumps in an enormous number of units, which would provide air conditioning,” he said.

Brian Ward, the executive director of operations for the Nova Scotia Provincial Housing Agency, further explained the difficulty in upgrading systems.

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“Our infrastructure is 40 years old. So as we try and update our older buildings, older construction, changing out the HVAC system is extremely difficult,” said Ward.

“We’re starting to look at putting heat pumps in the common areas in a lot of our buildings that do have common areas. So that’s been a slow process for us.”

All of the new builds, moving forward, will have heat pumps or an air conditioning/heating system installed, he said.

Residents ‘still suffer’ after years

Poole says she’s grateful for her home, but hopes to see improvements in their conditions before it’s too late.

“We’re very happy to have a roof over our heads and because of the housing situation and things like that. But our voices, for this building in particular, are not heard now,” she said.

“We’re sitting here with a heat wave. And every summer’s the same thing. I’ve been here eight years. There’s people that have been here 37 years and still suffer.”

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