When it comes to major weather events that result in extremely cold or hot temperatures, people living without refuge can quickly find themselves in need of emergency health services.
“Very simply, people can did,” said Erica Fleck, the division chief of emergency management with Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency.
“We see that all over the country, in different strategies. And homeless people and people that are at risk do die in extreme temperatures. It’s as simple as that.”
Currently, the Out of the Cold Emergency Winter Shelter serves as the main access point for people in vulnerable situations who have to escape from frigid temperatures.
However, Fleck says in a municipality with hundreds of thousands of people, one emergency shelter in downtown Halifax isn’t enough.
“It’s not just out of the cold, it’s also in the summer as well. So, what started in the summer is the real hot humid weather. There were people sleeping out on the streets all the time then, just as dangerous,” she said.
“Are people hydrated? Do they have some sun shelter to go into? And we realized that we didn’t have anything and so that’s when I started talking to the CEO of the library about different initiatives.”
WATCH: Frigid temperatures highlight ongoing need for shelters in Halifax
Since those talks began, a partnership has been struck between Halifax Public Libraries and Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency to pilot a project that will see public libraries open their doors in emergency weather situations to serve as a shelter to those in need.
“In an extreme snowstorm, for example, when it’s really cold, high wind, lots of snow, everything is shut down in the municipality. Normal government offices are not open, businesses are shut but we’ve made an agreement with how we keep the buildings open so that the buildings will be plowed, the staff will come from the local area,” Fleck said.
The Sackville Public Library will soon serve as the first public library in the municipality to open its doors for emergency shelter situations.
“We know that the services the library provides regularly are services that people need in an emergency. So, the beauty of the library is it can transform into what people need at the moment,” said Kathleen Peverill, director of public service with Halifax Public Libraries.
So, we could be an internet café, we could be a place where people go to meet with their neighbors, it could be a place to get a hot cup of coffee and something to eat. So, it just seemed like a natural fit for us to work with fire and emergency services.”
Fleck says talks are underway to secure a generator for the Sackville location and then future announcements will be made once the site is ready to serve in emergency situations.