Impact of Climate Change on the Homeless

Homeless Face Additional Risks in Extreme Weather

Climate Change and Homelessness is a topic not often though about. A June 29, 2016 article on Think Progress, “Climate Change’s Growing Impact on People Experiencing Homelessness,” highlights a problem faced by the homeless that is not often thought about.

During extreme heat and heat waves, many of us can retreat to the air conditioning in our homes and offices. But if you live on the street you don’t have that luxury.

“Those who lack shelter and even basic resources or support networks are already among the most vulnerable people on the planet, and when those stressors are made worse or more unpredictable by human-caused climate change, organizations struggle to keep up.”

The article causes readers to pause about deaths that are reported during periods of extreme weather.

“Eric Klinenberg, a New York University sociologist who has examined how cities can ‘climate-proof’ their residents, told ThinkProgress the first priority is ‘protecting homeless people during heat waves, or even in what now counts as ordinary summer weather in places like Phoenix.’

He noted how people experiencing homelessness face acute risks from extreme heat, perhaps even more than we currently realize due to under reporting.

‘For decades,’ he said, ‘governments failed to recognize the high toll that heat takes on poor and homeless people, particularly in the southwest. People would die of exposure but their deaths would never get classified as heat deaths. It took epidemiologists to point out that there’s nothing natural about a spike in mortality during hot weather events. It reflects a failure to understand and support vulnerable people.’”

Water can be heavy to add to the weight of the bags that many people experiencing homelessness carry their belongings in all day. Volunteers in some community distribute bottled water to their homeless neighbors which can be a true lifesaver.

The hazards of hurricanes, storms, flood, and disease carrying mosquitos are among the other potentially deadly side effects of climate change that homeless populations face.

“The federal government is beginning to take climate change impacts into consideration across many agencies, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Harriet Tregoning, HUD’s principal deputy assistant secretary for Community Planning and Development told ThinkProgress how increasingly long and hot summers impact HUD’s work with vulnerable populations.

‘Persons experiencing homelessness are especially vulnerable to extreme heat because of their limited access to shelter,’ she said. ‘That’s one reason that we’re starting to ask our grantees to look at how natural hazards, including those influenced by climate change, will impact our most vulnerable neighbors. We need smart policies and programs that adjust to changing conditions and target resources where they’re needed most.’”

The future of climate change does not bode well for the good work being done to end homelessness.

“All of these trends will also be more likely to expand the number of people who are homeless around the world. In 2013, 22 million people became displaced due to natural disasters around the world — more than the number displaced by war. And if current emissions trends continue such that the planet warms by 4 degrees Celsius, a Climate Central report last year the accompanying sea level rise will flood areas home to half a billion people around the world.”

Climate Change’s Growing Impact on People Experiencing Homelessness

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