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Concern for Vancouver’s homeless grows as heat wave takes hold

Vancouver City Hall issues warning about heat wave hitting south coast
The sunshine we've been enjoying on the south coast is about to take a turn and not necessarily for the better. It's going to get hot -- very hot. And as Geoff Hastings reports, we're all being encouraged to be cautious.

Concern is growing for Metro Vancouver’s homeless population as the region wilts under a heat wave.

Temperatures in Vancouver are forecast to stay in the high 20s for most of the week, while in the Fraser Valley they’re expected to top 35 degrees by Thursday.

LISTEN: Concern for the homeless amid Metro Vancouver heatwave

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It wasn’t all that long ago that a stretch of hot weather took the life of Vancouver homeless man Curtis Brick, who was found unresponsive under the hot sun in the city’s Grandview Park in 2009.

Jeremy Hunka with Vancouver’s Union Gospel Mission (UGM) said the city’s homeless are often the population that’s most vulnerable to extreme weather.

“They’re already susceptible, they’re already vulnerable, they have a diminished immune system from surviving on the streets already. So we take this really seriously, especially when you add in the poor air quality,” Hunka said.

READ MORE: Vancouver’s Union Gospel Mission gearing up to help the homeless beat the heat

And he’s not the only one who’s concerned.

Lori Meanwell’s grandfather is a regular at Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park, where she said he and his friends have been drinking hand sanitizer for its alcohol content.

“They’re burning from the inside,” she said. “It’s really, really sad and it’s heartbreaking to see the First Nations men are resorting to drinking that, especially my grandfather — he’s a war veteran.”

Meanwell ran to the nearest community centre for some bottled water before she forced her grandfather to drink it.

LISTEN: Lori Meanwell describes desperation to keep her grandfather hydrated

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Homeless people can take a break from the heat in the city’s air-conditioned public buildings, such as community centres and libraries.

Community centres in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) have also been equipped with water and sunscreen.

Fire hydrants have been converted to temporary water fountains at five intersections in the city, while misting stations are being set up at four Vancouver parks.

A smokey sunrise over Vancouver on Tuesday.
A smokey sunrise over Vancouver on Tuesday. Jordan Armstrong / Global News

The City of Surrey has also reactivated a temporary fire hydrant water fountain on the so-called “strip” of 135 A St.

Hunka said staff from the Union Gospel Mission have also been filling car trunks with juice and water and driving around the alleys in the Downtown Eastside distributing it.

But he said communicating the gravity of the heat situation to people struggling with mental health and substance use problems, or even just battling to survive on the street can often be difficult.

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“It’s really quite serious if you’re outside in the heat for a long period of time. You’re already teetering. And if you have a lung condition or a severe health condition… this can really just put you over the precipice.”

That’s a challenge Meanwell ran into on Wednesday, as she struggled to convince her grandfather to stay hydrated.

“Before I leave the area here I’m going to make sure they drink another bottle of water,” she said.

“But my grandpa told me today that he feels like his heart’s itching and I’m like ‘what do you mean by that?’

“He goes, ‘it’s my time.’”