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Cold weather more than an inconvenience to those on the streets

Last Updated Feb 5, 2019 at 2:25 pm PDT

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Frigid temperatures can be an inconvenience for many, but deadly for those living on the streets

UGM says it's a difficult time of year, when donations typically dry up and those most vulnerable are seeking shelter

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – That cold weather isn’t going anywhere, and as you bundle up, those who look after the city’s less fortunate are asking for your help and compassion.

The Union Gospel Mission on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside admits this is a low point of the year when it comes to donations.

“It’s not unusual for there to be a slow-down in donations in January and February, no,” Jeremy Hunka with the UGM said. “That’s something we see every year.”

And despite this drop, it can be the busiest time for people seeking shelter.

“When it is this long and this cold, it can actually be quite dangerous. There’s a lot of worst-case scenarios that can unfold — anything from somebody trying to light a candle in their tent to keep warm, and that’s starting a fire and severely burning or killing somebody.”

Health complications from the cold can include things like pneumonia, hypothermia, and even death.

“There’s a lot of dangers that come with the cold weather like this,” he added.

Hunka says the cold weather can also catch people off-guard, and believes many tend to minimize the cooler temperatures we get here on the West Coast.

“When it’s five to 10 degrees below normal, people aren’t ready for it. People tend to minimize, maybe, the cold in Vancouver because it’s not as extreme as other parts of the country. But the cold here is a different type of cold. It’s wet, it gets into your lungs. People can develop really serious health concerns, like pneumonia, and it just gets worse as it goes on.”

The UGM and other organizations are always looking for donations, warm clothes or even cash.

First cold snap leads to increased power use

Meantime, the sudden onset of frigid temperatures means BC Hydro has seen an increase in electricity use province-wide.

“With the colder than average temperatures across the province this week, we’re definitely seeing a big increase in demand for electricity,” Mora Scott with the utility said. “On Sunday and Monday nights, we actually saw an increase of about 13 per cent on average compared to the same days last week.”

BC Hydro is preparing to continue seeing demand remain high over the next few days, because of the lingering cold.

“And potentially reach near record-breaking levels,” she added. “BC fHydro is forecasting peak hourly demands in the range of 9,600 megawatts to about 10,000 megawatts.”

In contrast, the highest peak hourly demand ever recorded was in 2017, when Scott says consumption reached 10,194 megawatts. “So we’re probably going to get really close.”

When asked whether there’s any risk or vulnerability to the system with that kind of demand, Scott assures there is enough power to meet the increased load.

“We do have a team of engineers in place that monitor loads and track weather patterns for us,” Scott explained. “And in B.C. we’re also really fortunate. We have a flexible system that allows us to ramp up and down really quickly, and we can always import power if needed.”

Scott says electricity use hits its peak typically between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. in the winter time — when people come home, turn on the heat, switch on the lights, and make dinner.

While there aren’t any concerns for the system itself, the utility does recommend a few things to help customers ease the pain on their wallet.

For one, Scott says you can try turning off the heat-dry function on your dish washer, or launder your clothes in cold water.

“We also recommend keeping the thermostat at the ideal temperatures, so it should be set at about 16 degrees when you’re sleeping or away from the home. Eighteen degrees when you’re cooking or doing housework, and 21 degrees when you’re just relaxing at home.”

-With files from Dean Recksiedler