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Climate change especially concerning for homeless in Vancouver, report says

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When it’s hot out – it can be uncomfortable for all of us – but the situation can be especially dangerous for people living on the street.

And now the Union Gospel Mission is out with a report examining how extreme weather events brought on by climate change can be particularly dangerous for those with vulnerable housing situations.

“So we see through this report that there is an undeniable link between climate change and homelessness,” said Sarah Chew with the Union Gospel Mission. “Obviously with climate change impacting homelessness an incredible amount, it’s dangerous, it’s devastating, the results. We’ve seen it through the 2021 heat dome that killed 619 people.”

CTV News spoke with people on the Downtown Eastside about some of the challenging situations they find themselves in. One of the themes brought up was that some areas with air conditioning won’t let people in – even when people are desperate for somewhere to cool down.

“It’s really hot and I try to find somewhere to go,” SRO resident Yvonne Brown told CTV News. “Some places won’t allow you in there.”

Brown has mobility issues and says she was forced to remove an air conditioner a couple of years ago, which had provided some relief.

“You have to find places to go, air conditioners,” shelter resident Darrell Lacerte told CTV News, also speaking about the challenges of being rejected from areas where he goes to cool down. “I normally go to the malls or the library, things like that to cool down when it’s extremely hot when there’s no place to go, but it’s very, very hard.”

It's not just about comfort, because lives are at risk in extreme weather.

“It’s climate crunch time,” said University of British Columbia Sustainability Hub Senior Director Linda Nowlan. “It’s really time for everyone to take action. We’re all going to feel this more and more in the coming years. It’s getting worse, not better.”

There are also natural solutions for adapting to climate change. Vancouver city council is moving forward with plans to plant 100,000 new trees to provide more shade.

It was a promise made by the governing ABC party during the last municipal election – and a motion passed Wednesday pushing for council to report back with a plan and a timeline.

“Tree canopy is one important way that we protect residents and keep folks safer and healthier during the increased number of extreme weather events that we’re seeing in Vancouver because of the climate crisis,” said OneCity Vancouver councillor Christine Boyle, who put forward the motion alongside Green Party councillor Adriane Carr in a bid to create some urgency on the file.

“For neighbourhoods like this in the Downtown Eastside, that have traditionally been disadvantaged in terms of the amount of canopy, you can see the kind of heat and the impact that has,” said ABC councillor Mike Klassen, who insisted his party always intended to move ahead with the pledge.

The motion called for the trees to be planted in areas with lower tree canopy numbers – and in places where people are at higher risk during heat events.

It also called on the city to use both native and climate-resilient trees, given concerns in recent years about newly planted trees dying given the drought conditions that have been present.

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