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For newcomers in Windsor, Ont., heat waves present new challenges

Finding it a bit steamy this summer? You’re not alone. Across Canada, people say they are really feeling the heat, especially in their homes. And we’re tracking it. CBC teams have installed temperature and humidity sensors in dozens of homes in several cities, including Windsor, Ont., to see just what happens to people when things go from hot to sizzling to seriously dangerous. This is one of those stories.

For newcomers to Canada, milder temperatures might be expected with a move to the Great White North. But with another week of heat warnings in Windsor, Ont., and temperatures pushing 40 C with the humidex, it means coping with the heat without always being equipped.

Even for those who have air conditioning options, some new Windsorites are worried to use them, either because of financial fears and sometimes because of more complex situations; a compromise that can have real impacts on mental and physical health. 

For Bushra Binte Ishaque, who moved to Windsor from Bangladesh with her husband and two-year-old son in January, her apartment is where she has to spend the majority of her day. A call centre worker, Ishaque works daytime hours from home while her husband, who works nights, sleeps in the apartment’s one bedroom. The family can afford one AC unit, but its use is limited.

“I have to stay in the living room to do my work,” she says. “My husband is sleeping in the bedroom with an AC, but I don’t have one because I cannot keep on talking [while] my husband is sleeping.” 

The apartment has an open concept, with the living area connected to the kitchen, and while her husband sleeps, the heat and humidity accumulate. Ishaque leaves the balcony window open to help, but it’s not enough.

Ishaque's Southeast facing window and balcony, which she leaves open during the day to try and stay cool without air conditioning.
Ishaque’s Southeast facing window and balcony, which she leaves open during the day to try and stay cool without air conditioning. (TJ Dhir / CBC)

The brick building does notably house heat, especially when Ishaque is cooking. Her son often joins her in the bed to sleep at night to ensure he stays at a comfortable temperature during the night. 

Ishaque is one of 10 Windsorites who have agreed to participate in CBC’s Urban Heat Project, where teams have installed temperature and humidity monitors in the homes of those who struggle with high indoor temperatures. Her apartment is notably hotter than the outside temperature on most days since our team began monitoring.

“It’s not possible to [get another unit] because I cannot afford it. The price of the AC, yes, but also the electric bill. It’s very concerning.” 

Ishaque is also studying at the University of Windsor when she is not working at the call centre. For now, the campus offers solace on hot days. 

Elnaz Akhavan is another newcomer in a precarious situation with her heat. On some nights, her apartment has reached temperatures well above 30 C, although she has a small air conditioning unit in her living area. 

for newcomers in windsor ont heat waves present new challenges 1

Heat in Windsor home reaches 32 C at night

7 days ago

Duration 1:32

Elnaz Akhavan, who lives in a bachelor apartment in downtown Windsor without air conditioning, shows how hot it gets in her apartment, even after the sun goes down. She says the extreme heat makes it difficult for her to sleep and study at home.

“The rest of the apartment gets really hot. Even if it’s on, sometimes when it’s so hot, it just is not working,” she says. 

Akhavan is from Iran originally and is studying for her PhD at the University of Windsor. She lives alone, apart from a cat she house sits. Her method of coping even in the summer is spending as much time at the university as she can. 

Elnaz Akhavan watches the temperature on her temperature and humidity monitor as part of the CBC's Urban Heat Project.
Elnaz Akhavan, a PhD student at the University of Windsor, watches the temperature on her temperature and humidity monitor as part of the CBC’s Urban Heat Project. (TJ Dhir/ CBC)

“I’m super busy at this school, but even when I wasn’t super busy, I preferred to be there,” she says. “I go to the university to cool off.”

It’s advice Akhavan has shared with another friend new to Canada, Zeinab Niknam.

Niknam moved to Windsor to also attend the university from Iran, along with her husband. They have a portable air conditioning unit in their living room, but are hesitant to use it often. 

“We have been here just more than a month and we haven’t received our first bill,” she says. “So we are worried that it might get so high. So we [try] to manage the use of our air conditioner.” 

A portable air conditioner, similar to the unit Zeinab and her husband purchased after realizing the hot summer temperatures.
A portable air conditioner, similar to the unit Zeinab and her husband purchased after facing the hot summer temperatures. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

In the meantime, while selectively using their air conditioning, the couple has moved a mattress into the living room on extra hot days so they can sleep in front of the cool air. Still, the temperatures in the Niknam household are often hotter than the outdoor temperatures. 

“My husband cannot tolerate heat,” she says. “Anything over 30 degrees without air conditioning, he can’t. And right now we can’t afford another unit, so we hope the bill isn’t too high.” 

Like Akhavan, Niknam finds solace at the university. 

“[We] go to the gym, I stay at the university. We are just home in the evenings and try to spend time where the weather is better.”

Ahead of heat warnings throughout the city this week, Windsor has released a list of public spaces in the city that have air conditioning, including the Chimczuk Museum and the Windsor Public Library. The city says those seeking reprieve from the heat can also call 211 for more options. 

Throughout the summer, CBC News will continue to share stories from families who agreed to take part in our Urban Heat Project in Windsor.

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