When extreme cold alerts and shelters are not enough – new ideas are needed.


The week that ACCES Employment offered a course in social media marketing to a class of new Canadians, temperatures in the Greater Toronto Area sank to -31oC. The course participants were newly arrived professionals enrolled in career development programs provided by ACCES with the support of government and the United Way. They had never experienced the force of a Canadian winter and came from many much warmer climates like Dubai, Venezuela, Bangladesh, India, Spain, Colombia, El Salvador, Egypt and Pakistan.

As the course facilitator I wanted to link social media learning to concrete everyday examples and situations right here, like the deployment of extreme weather alerts through the media and social networks. The class was shocked to learn that Toronto has a wintering homeless population of about 500 and, in spite of many municipal and volunteer programs, a small number of deaths due to exposure occur year after year. Children, the elderly and persons with disabilities such as Alzheimer’s are also at great risk of life and limb.

The following ideas to help protect the homeless and others in this situation came out of a passionate class exercise; they are of course preliminary and were developed over a very few hours. Discussion also focused on the challenges posed by the practical considerations of safety, funding, compliance, privacy and human rights.

But the initiative of this class shows how blending technology, imagination, resources and compassion could invent new approaches to protecting the most vulnerable in a society. Interestingly, some of the ideas were adaptations of existing technologies and applications in the participants’ home communities.

  1. Smartphone App Development: the ‘out of the cold’ app, available to the public, would help locate and identify at risk individuals sending data and coordinates to the nearest social worker(s), rescue worker(s), local emergency services and/or law-enforcement authorities.

  2. Text Message from one to many: there are web-based software or apps which can send thousands of messages in the form of SMS to cellphone users at once and carry the message about almost anything – from a nationwide announcement to a limited audience for a small event. This is real-time, economical communications from accessible databases that again can link support workers and volunteers with at-risk individuals via the public.

  3. Twitter: similar to the text message service, Twitter can also be used to spread the call for help via designated hashtags. Free, fast, responsive but more limited in audience.

  4. Digital Billboards: large billboards at major intersections can be used to display the alerts, news, messages and images related to the homeless and be broadcasted to the driving public. This can be used as complementary to a larger information campaign.

  5. Drones: drones are the next big technology affecting society. They can be sent quickly and economically to areas where homeless people are in difficulty and have been flagged, but are not easy to access; or deployed to help find lost children and elders. They could be instrumental in guiding rescuers, depositing emergency items or conveying messages.

  6. Special Jacket with integrated gps tracker: made off special fabric for extra warmth, such garments can be equipped with a gps locator and help button and made available to those who are homeless at local shelters. This would allow the social worker and/or rescue workers to find the exact location of the homeless and get them help whenever needed or called. Clothing manufacturers could donate development of the project and final product.

  7. Radio-Telephony based communication on Street-lights and utility poles: since we want to connect the distressed, lost or homeless directly and leave the decision to be helped or not entirely in their hands, we can use radio broadcasting channels to provide weather alerts and information, shelter locations, while leaving the choice to appeal for a help to those who are at-risk. This can be achieved by setting up radio devices with two-way communication (transmitting and receiving) on street-lamps or traffic-signal poles as well as on the trashcans where electrical connections can be arranged. Users will be immediately connected to local emergency service providers who can help.

ACCES Employment Social Media Marketing ClassI am proud of the graduates of the ACCES Employment social media marketing course for dedicating some of their education to serious thought and sincere interest in a completely unfamiliar social problem. This exercise represents the power of the creative collaboration of many diverse perspectives.

Got any better ideas and want to share – please continue and add to the discussion.



Eric Doubt
Sales and Marketing Sector Coach, Workshop Facilitator
ACCES Employment;
Council Member, Canadian Institute of Marketing
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