Hypothermia and frostbite can be avoided by following the guidelines below:
Build breathable (cotton, wool) clothing layers to include thermal underwear, undershirt, track suits, sweaters, snowsuits, winter boots, hats, mittens and scarves.
Cover exposed skin
Exposed skin can become frostbitten in as little as 30 seconds, always cover exposed skin especially when the wind is a factor.
Try to limit the time sitting. Stand up and move around to allow circulation to reach better reach all body parts.
Blankets and portable seat/cushion
Sitting on cold pavement or concrete can increase the risk of hypothermia. Sitting on a blanket or portable seat will limit the risk.
Dehydration can occur even when the temperature is below freezing. Hot chocolate is a great way to remain well hydrated.
Avoid alcoholic beverages
Alcohol diminishes the body's ability to feel the cold and can cause an increased exposure time.
Signs of hypothermia
Confusion, lethargy, weakness, apathy, pale skin colour.
Signs of frostbite
Pale grey, waxy textured skin in affected area cold to the touch, numbness and localized pain, swelling and blistering.
Extreme Cold Weather Alerts
Toronto Hostel Services issues an extreme cold weather alert to help get homeless people in from the cold.
An alert goes into effect when Environment Canada:
- predicts a temperature of -15 degrees Celsius or lower, without wind chill
- issues a wind chill warning for outdoor activity for people in the Toronto area
- predicts extreme weather conditions, such as a blizzard or ice storm
Under the alert, the following extra services are available to help homeless people:
- additional emergency sleeping spaces in Toronto hostels/shelters
- increased street patrols by Anishnawbe Health Street Patrol to reach homeless people
- distribution of TTC tickets through 17 drop-in centres and outreach agencies to help homeless people reach shelters
- provision of emergency transportation through the Canadian Red Cross for homeless people trying to reach services/shelters
The STREET Helpline service, 1-866-392-3777 (free from any payphone), also operates 24 hours a day to let homeless people and front-line workers know where to find shelter and other services.