News Local

Weather plan in the works

By Patrick Bales, The Orillia Packet & Times

On a day when a violent storm ripped through the region, Orillia council committee discussed a new policy for protecting the city’s residents from extreme weather.

For years, the city has been following the best practices laid out by the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit when it comes to extreme weather events. Primarily, this involves warning the most vulnerable, urging them to seek protection and triggering response activities to ensure they are protected.

“It’s really just formalizing what we’re doing into a policy,” said Ralph Dominelli, Orillia fire chief, of the proposal. After committee’s recommendation, it will be up for ratification at next week’s city council meeting.

“It also looks at usage, because that’s going to determine what the next steps are going to be,” added Kevin Gangloff, director of youth operations.

The fire department is responsible for opening cooling and warming centres, along with hydration centres in municipal buildings. Fire will also take the lead in requesting the parks, recreation and culture department to extend beach hours when possible on days with extreme heat.

What the policy doesn’t do is draft the municipality into offering regular temporary shelter services during either extreme heat or – perhaps more importantly – extreme cold situations. Rather, the current system of opening cooling stations in the summer and providing motel vouchers in the winter will stay in place.

That still puts area youth in a tough spot, something of a concern for Gangloff. Motel vouchers are only available to those over the age of 18. Homeless youth in need of a place to stay are often taken the shelters in neighbouring communities, such as Barrie or Newmarket, if they so choose.

The option for expansion is available, of course, and discussion surrounding a program similar to Out of the Cold to assist the homeless in the winter was brought up at the committee table. But Out of the Cold is a volunteer-intensive program, councillors were told, with as many as 1,000 volunteers needed alongside the co-operation of city service groups and churches to see it become a success.

“It takes a lot manpower, it takes a lot of volunteerism to make those programs (run),” Gangloff said. “You just can’t have one volunteer sitting there all night. They’re running seven days a week from December and January, depending on the weather patterns, through March.”

While the extreme cold could exacerbate the homeless issues, the numbers aren’t available to back that up, Dominelli said.

“Is the need there in Orillia? It’s very hard to find,” the chief said. “We have the stats from the county on the motel vouchers and using the men’s shelter, but it doesn’t specifically talk to weather. It talks to family crisis, being evicted and wanting a place to stay. There’s really no true facts on how many people require assistance during extreme weather.”

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