Toronto is particularly susceptible to extreme weather disasters simply because it’s booming: the more concrete the city, the hotter the city. The urban heat-island effect is caused by tightly packed buildings and paved surfaces boxing in the heat. And when the rain comes, the lack of green spaces and growing number of impermeable surfaces mean there’s nowhere for water to go but into our ancient, overloaded pipes.
The Lighthouse Project in Hamilton has been building a network of residents and community stakeholders in the interest of preparing neighbours for the impacts of increasing extreme weather events. This network is newly named as Community Resilience to Extreme Weather (CREW) Hamilton.
Faith & the Common Good, Halton Environmental Network, Greening Sacred Spaces Halton-Peel, and an array of partners will be working together over the next year, thanks to funding received from the Oakville Community Foundation (OCF), to pilot an Oakville neighbourhood extreme weather resilience hub model using places of worship and other neighbourhood organizations as neighbourhood engagement and care anchors. The goal is to create an Oakville resiliency hub network that engages diverse community stakeholders to increase community capacity and understanding around how we can work to support each other. The Project plan is to pilot “neighbourhood hubs” in 3 geographic hubs based in the community of Oakville.
The changing climate is inducing extreme weather events that are increasing in frequency and severity and causing havoc and devastation in many of our communities. Across urban centres, our most vulnerable neighbours are the least prepared to tackle such emergencies. Typically, they do not have access to necessary supplies and are unable to remove themselves from a harmful situation because of constraints that include health problems, mobility concerns and a lack of social networks. Governments can’t tackle these vast problems alone. Because caring is in our DNA — with outreach programs regularly being run by strong networks of committed volunteers — faith communities can help. We can assist our local municipalities to prepare neighbours for potential extreme weather events.
Since 2015, Faith & the Common Good (FCG) has been taking action concerning the urgent need for neighbourhood-based extreme weather preparedness and resilience with a specific focus on vulnerable populations. Engaging diverse faith groups as well as local stakeholders (such as municipal staff, neighbourhood associations, advocacy and environmental groups and so on), our projects and programs aim at increasing community understanding, capacity, and action around how we can work together to support one another in preparing for and adapting to extreme weather.
Asset mapping. St John's Lutheran church, Hamilton
Planting a food forest. Shri Ram Dham Temple, Kitchener
FCG has experimented with various models such as our 2018 pilot project in the GTHA, to create climate resilience hubs of local faith communities as well as working with the City of Brampton’s Emergency Management Office for the Lighthouse Project that trained over 22 faith communities to be first responders. These pilot projects have inspired broader action.
One non-profit partner, Community Resilience to Extreme Weather (CREW) continues to engage locals and community groups that act with faith communities to prepare high-rise residents with phone trees and checklists. Another group – OakvilleReady – has organized a network of weather resilience hubs across the Halton region.
Ultimately, if you are a faith community, you can do something to help the community you serve, with anything from acting as a cooling or warming centre, offering beverages and phone charging stations, serving as a communications hub, facilitating network opportunities to support training sessions, helping with outreach activities and workshops, sharing resources and volunteers to installing high-end equipment such as generators and food preparation facilities.
OakvilleReady is a collective initiative composed of team members from The Town of Oakville, Halton Environmental Network, and Faith & the Common Good. Local faith-based stakeholders (OakvilleReady Hub locations) include: Church of the Incarnation, Forestview, Kerr Street Mission, Knox Presbyterian Church, Maple Grove United, Shaarei-Beth El, St. Cuthbert Anglican Church, St. Paul’s United.
The idea is to utilize neighbourhood, faith-based buildings as ‘resiliency hubs’ – places where community members can go to find safe haven and reprieve from extreme heat or cold, but also spaces to learn about weather preparedness by building climate-ready infrastructure, both social and physical. These could include anything from teaching participants personal preparedness and how to build a 72 hour go-kit, to establishing community gardens that counter food insecurity. OakvilleReady works with faith and community groups, and the town of Oakville.
The Lighthouse Project (2017 - 2018) used community engagement strategies to promote local multi-stakeholder networks or resilience hubs, contributing to extreme weather preparedness: before, during and after an event. This pilot explored how local, social infrastructure could prepare residents in under-resourced urban environments for climate-related stresses and extreme weather emergencies in the three cities of Hamilton, Toronto and Brampton.
Brampton’s Emergency Managers offered training to volunteers from diverse faith-based organizations to enable them to be part of the City’s emergency response as refuge hubs. In Hamilton, our project partners were Environment Hamilton, an environmental organization and we explored how its existing networks could form around social resilience. In Toronto, we worked with Community to Extreme Weather Resilience (CREW) and a community organizer who undertook network building to support mostly newcomer populations in the inner city neighbourhood of the Saint James Tower (SJT) community.
As a result of the pilot, a residents’ working group was established in Toronto to address neighbour wellbeing and emergency response in one SJT apartment tower. In Hamilton, a multi-stakeholder network emerged to support the climate preparedness of agencies serving local vulnerable populations. Community Resilience To Extreme Weather, CREW Hamilton created a network throughout Hamilton, beginning with the Beasley neighbourhood. CREW Hamilton explored the potential for this network designed to support its members, who in turn would support the people they serve, to be prepared for weather-related emergencies. Members of the network contributed their unique expertise towards a plan for a neighbourhood response to extreme weather. This project engaged not only diverse faith groups, but also advocacy and social service groups, the Public Library, Public Health and Planning Departments. Efforts led to the creation of Climate Ready Hamilton (CRH) with the support of McMaster University Semester in Residence (CityLab) students who developed communication materials and participated in asset mapping.
Neighbourhoods are most resilient when residents know each other, have multiple active networks, care for their vulnerable neighbours and have committed and tangible external supports.
That is why our on-going extreme weather resilience work is focused on building a "social infrastructure" for climate response. Faith communities have important roles to play in helping to curate community "resilience hubs" where residents feel welcome, animated, and willing to stay and contribute.
Check out our 2015 Toronto-area case studies to see the wide variety of local partnerships that diverse places of faith established to increase the climate resilience of their neighborhoods. The following video also provides a glimpse of one of the early community engagement workshops that was held as part of our 2015 Toronto pilot to help connect communities.
Working together to leverage these shared assets on behalf of our most vulnerable should be an important part of our local climate response plans.
Municipalities and traditional emergency response actors are struggling to meet the overwhelming needs of simply maintaining critical infrastructure in the face of these unprecedented stresses. Too frequently, our most vulnerable community members are left without sufficient support.
How can my faith community get started?
Faith groups can add great value to local emergency response structures. They are typically the first ones in and last ones to leave. They possess a shared sacred calling around community service and care for the Earth. They offer local community connections, volunteer mobilization, and locally relevant resources that can enhance response and recovery effectiveness.
Faith & the Common Good’s Extreme Weather Tool Kit will help your faith group think through the essential components of an extreme weather response plan.
It provides some great resources to help you engage with municipal and community partners, including sample letters and power point presentation slides.
While the toolkit is tailored for faith groups in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) who want to support their most vulnerable community members better withstand extreme weather emergencies, it can easily be adapted to your location and or community organization.
Join our shared learning network
Faith & the Common Good and its collaborative partners across the country are building a community of practice to enhance community resilience to extreme weather.
Want to join our conversations? Send an email to [email protected] to be included on our on-going training and shared learning.
Keep scrolling through this page! We have case studies and resources for how faith-based groups can provide extreme weather support locally.
Check out this piece in the spec.com written by our communications coordinator, Beatrice Ekoko, asking the question, “how prepared are our communities for increasing extreme weather events?” Here is the complete article:
Globally, heat waves, hurricanes, severe thunderstorms and flooding are becoming more frequent and increasingly intense with climate change. How prepared are we for extreme weather events — both in the home and as a community?
On a personal level I’ll admit that I don’t even have a flashlight at the ready, let alone the recommended two litres of water daily per person stored away. I don’t know where I would go in the event of an electrical blackout.
Extreme weather events are no longer once-in-100-years occurrences, thanks to climate change. Take the City of Toronto; it has experienced three super storms in the last 12 years alone. But extreme weather impacts are predicted to increase and government clearly can’t do it all. So what happens to the vulnerable residents of our communities? Here’s where faith groups are stepping up and exploring how they can be of service within their neighbourhoods.