Surrey opens doors to get homeless out of smoky air

SURREY — Surrey Urban Mission is helping the homeless escape the smoky air, thanks to dollars from BC Housing, said executive director Jonquil Hallgate.

It’s a first for the city. In the past, extreme weather locations have only been called to open in the winter.

Peter Fedos is the extreme weather co-ordinator for Surrey-White Rock. He said given the unique conditions due to wildfires throughout B.C., particulates in the air are causing problems for some people, including those living on the streets.

While there’s been discussion at the regional level – and even a pilot proposal for shelters to open when temperatures hit 38 C – Fedos said nothing has officially been rolled out to deal with extreme heat.

“So we’re looking at how Surrey deals with it, regardless of the rest of the community,” he told the Now. “So there’s no extreme weather response in Surrey but what we’ve got is we have some service providers staying open to allow people to cool down and to get away from the particulates.”

Metro Vancouver released an air quality advisory Sunday due to high concentrations of particulates from smoke from wildfires.

The advisory says people with medical conditions should hold off on strenuous activities and stay indoors to reduce exposure. Of particular concern are infants, the elderly and those with diabetes and lung or heart disease.

Fedos said there’s many on the street who have diabetes and are either undiagnosed, untreated or both.

“We just want to see how it goes. It’s Surrey’s solution. So there’s no region wide strategy and this is a pretty good example of why something needs to be put in place.”

But he noted the situation is unique. He likened it to Ash Wednesday bushfires in ’83 in Melbourne, Australia, which he experienced first-hand.

“There they were having ashes and particulates cover the city for one day. Here, you’ve got ash dropping in Coquitlam in the upper elevations,” he said.

“Waking up that Sunday the smell was just unbelievable. It brought back memories for me. Seeing the smoke, I’m in Ocean Park, and our cul de sac was covered.”

Fedos said many predict B.C. is going to continue to see very dry summers.

“If this is what happened in a really short drought, the longer climate change goes on, the dryer it gets… You don’t get this kind of weather without a consequence.”

Meanwhile, Delta is closing several parks due to the weather and air quality conditions, including Boundary Bay, Watershed, Cougar Canyon, North 40 and Delta Nature Reserve.

Weather Network forecasts no to little rain, with a chance of showers on Monday, July 13.

areid@thenownewspaper.com

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