Warm place to stay: Montreal opens emergency shelters due to extreme cold
The next few nights are expected to be frigid in Montreal, with wind chill factors dropping to -30.
In order to prevent anyone experiencing homelessness from ending up outdoors, the City of Montreal is announcing the opening of two emergency shelters.
According to a special weather bulletin issued by Environment Canada, an arctic air mass is expected to invade Abitibi-Témiscamingue on Thursday night and then move into central and southern Quebec.
Snow squalls and strong gusts are expected. The Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean and the St. Lawrence Valley should also feel the effects of this as early as Thursday evening, while other regions south of the river could be affected during the night from Thursday to Friday, Environment Canada warned.
The Weather Network predicts that the mercury could drop to -21 C on Thursday night in Montreal. Then, on Friday, the temperature could drop to -32 due to the wind chill.
The Montreal Regional Public Health Department said that, generally, health risks are higher when the felt temperature is below -27.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, the deputy medical director at the Montreal Regional Public Health Department, Dr. David Kaiser, said there is a strong increase in the risks associated with cold.
In the case of homeless people, the main concern is frostbite, but also hypothermia.
"Frostbite means that you can lose your fingers and toes. Hypothermia can be fatal. On Thursday, we expect [it to be] -25. At these temperatures, people in a homeless situation can die," he warned.
In response, Montreal is offering two new emergency sites to the homeless population. The first one opened on Tuesday in the Ville-Marie borough and a second one will open on Thursday in the Plateau Mont-Royal borough.
The sites will be able to accommodate people in need between 8 p.m. and 9 a.m. The plan is to close the shelters after the cold snap, starting Sunday.
"They are being made available to the health network and community organizations," the city's press release states, "to ensure that all vulnerable people have access to a warm place to stay in the event of overflow from the shelters and drop-in centres."
The city also announced that it will participate in a surveillance operation in collaboration with health and community resources.
Montreal police and members of the Équipe mobile de médiation en intervention sociale will be mobilized "to accompany people on the street to the appropriate shelter services," according to the city.
According to data provided by municipal officials, a record number of 1,600 places are available this winter in Montreal's shelters and drop-in centres.
Public health invites the population to protect themselves from the cold, noting that health risks increase with the duration of exposure during periods of extreme cold. In particular, the elderly and infants are more vulnerable to extreme cold.
People with heart disease, asthma and mobility issues are also considered more vulnerable and are advised to avoid going outside during periods of extreme cold.
"The mechanism we call 'heat stress' is that the cold will make the lungs and heart work harder. For people who are already fragile, this can lead to impacts such as heart attacks or asthma attacks," said Dr. Kaiser.
For people who have to go outside, it is recommended to make sure the skin and hair are dry and to wear warm clothing. People are also advised to protect the skin on their faces by covering up with a scarf and using face cream.
The extremities of the body should be well covered at all times, as up to 30 per cent of the body's heat can be lost by leaving the head uncovered.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Feb. 1, 2023.
The Canadian Press health content is funded through a partnership with the Canadian Medical Association. The Canadian Press is solely responsible for editorial decisions.
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