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Heavy smoke in Calgary difficult for homeless population: Advocate

Last Updated Jul 19, 2021 at 10:16 pm MDT

CALGARY — Smoke and haze from wildfires continue to cover Calgary, and it’s being advised to take breaks by heading indoors. But for the homeless population – this isn’t always possible.

“We’re seeing lots of fatigue, people that are dry in their mouth and throat and are very thirsty. So, to support vulnerable populations, we’ve been handing out emergency Vitamin C, lots of Gatorade, and water,” said Chaz Smith with BeTheChangeYYC.

Air pollution itself can be an irritant on the lungs if there is long-term exposure.

A special air quality statement is in effect, and respiratory therapist Amin Thawer says this does have an effect on people, especially with pre-existing conditions.

“It’s more harmful for people with asthma that may not be controlled, or severe asthma, or COPD, and that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis,” said Thawer.


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For those without those conditions, it may only result in a sore throat or headache – but he says smoking cigarettes or vaping puts you at a higher risk. At his clinic, they’re recommending quitting or setting a goal date to quit in the future.

Smith says they see people on the streets who smoke and are experiencing mental health and substance use – all putting them in a more vulnerable category for this weather.

A study from the University of Utah highlighted that those experiencing homelessness are at most risk for air pollution – especially if they’re sleeping outside because humans breathe deeper while they sleep.

It found that people who slept rough sought more medical attention, they were also emotionally affected by the weather pattern.

These increased risks are being called an “environmental justice issue” as we learn more about how climate change is changing our atmosphere, and therefore, the risk of being outdoors for long periods of time.

That’s why Smith says now, affordable housing needs to be placed at a higher priority.

“Always the best defense against all these elements, the pandemic, the heat and so once again we’re seeing that that’s exactly what we need more of is affordable housing with supports.”