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Vulnerable communities struggle to beat the heat


As Ottawa records its hottest July since 1921, coupled with an ongoing global pandemic, families across East Ontario are struggling to find new ways to beat the heat. For some Ottawa residents like vulnerable seniors and people living with disabilities in Ottawa Community Housing buildings, air conditioning (AC) is not just a want but a need.

Coping with the heat while isolating

Francine and her husband Cleo, who are both clients of Ottawa West Community Support’s Aging in Place program*, have long struggled with their health. 

Living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a lung disease that causes breathing difficulties, the threat of contracting COVID-19 and the unknown lasting impacts of the global pandemic have proven to be especially strenuous for Francine and Cleo. Pre-existing health conditions combined with physical distancing measures made the rising hot temperatures in their small 10th-floor apartment practically unbearable.

As AC is not a mandatory requirement for community housing in the same way heating is, seniors, young families, and others whose health relies on keeping cool have found the heat this summer, paired with the added complexity of physical distancing, to be extremely difficult.

“The first heatwave I wish we had air conditioning because we suffered a lot. We couldn't sleep properly and we struggled with our breathing. So it makes a big difference for us having air conditioning. Now I can do a lot of the stuff that I couldn't before.”

In June, the issue was brought to the United Way’s Community Response Table and our community development team took action—thanks in part to funding from the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund.

Now, partners like Ottawa West Community Support and the Aging in Place program, have been able to adapt to support residents during these unprecedented times. Throughout the summer, Aging in Place has identified vulnerable seniors and community members with disabilities who are in need of additional cooling support, and provided them with AC units—so that they can feel comfortable in their homes while temperatures rise during the pandemic. 

For Zema, a Community Support Outreach Coordinator with the Aging in Place program, the partnership with United Way means they can better support clients by beating the heat and flattening the curve simultaneously.

“The partnership with United Way has been valuable to the success of Aging in Place and it has been extremely helpful in aiding our seniors in accessing something they didn't think they could. It was very hot and now they are really appreciating having that AC. Our seniors are crucial to the culture of our community so it is important to make sure we are supporting them.”

By providing these vital services, the program can help mitigate emergency room visits and hospitalization by offering outreach and intervention support that assists clients in living healthier lives while remaining in their homes.

Cresence, another client of the centre, was also identified as needing an AC unit, and was pleased to receive it to help stay cool during the pandemic.

“The air conditioners came at the right time. I was pleasantly surprised. It was so terribly hot and since we have a limited income and could not afford to buy air conditioners, the donations of the AC unit made such a difference in our lives!”

The hottest summer in almost a century coupled with a global pandemic has been difficult for many, but with community support, we can ensure families all across East Ontario stay safe and cool. 

Thanks to United Way supporters, more residents like Francine, Cleo, and Cresence now have access to well-deserved relief from rising temperatures. 

Together, we can help the most vulnerable.

*The Aging in Place program—designed to provide an integrated mix of services to seniors and people living with disabilities in 11 Ottawa Community Housing apartment buildings across West Ottawa—is just one of the many projects Ottawa West Community Support is working on.




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