People who are experiencing homelessness, poverty or housing instability are the most vulnerable to the effects of weather extremes caused by climate change. The term “weather extremes” refers to weather patterns such as: melting ice caps, rising water levels, storms, and temperature extremes. Due to the negative effect on the health and wellbeing of individuals experiencing homelessness, the rapid pace of climate change and increase of weather extremes is particularly concerning. 

“Young people will access shopping centres during the day to avoid heat. Young people sleeping in public toilets during significant storms in order to stay dry.” Homeless Sector Provider – Australia – p.808 – Every et al., 2019 

The climate crisis amplifies inequities in vulnerable populations, like those experiencing homelessness, according to a systematic review published in the Lancet. These populations tend to be “affected more frequently and with a more lasting impact.” The inequalities described are seen on a global scale, however, they are most concerning in low-income communities where poverty, infrastructure and health system issues have a compounding effect. 

Key Challenges

recent systematic review of academic papers on the topic highlighted some of key challenges that the homeless population experience due to climate change: 

  • Homeless populations are the most exposed to weather disasters (heat and cold) and they have fewer resources to help them find shelter and recover, than those who are not experiencing homelessness. 
  • Physical and mental health problems that are regularly seen among those experiencing homelessness create greater risks for morbidity and mortality outcomes as a result of extreme weather exposure. 
  • Homeless populations are not adequately accounted for in disaster response plans and climate risk mitigation efforts. 
  • Climate change intensifies the suffering of individuals experiencing homelessness and housing instability by creating greater food, water, and energy insecurity. 
  • Indigenous peoples are both amongst the most affected by climate change and the most active agents of environmental conservation.
  • Climate change, through a range of impacts, acts as a driver of the migration of impoverished populations who often flee rural environments for slums, homelessness, and extreme poverty in urban environments. Though, the poorest may be worse off still:

“…the poorest of the poor are often unable to migrate and may end up trapped in environmentally degraded areas.”- Leichenko et al., 2014

The impact climate change has on this population is complex in terms of the number of intersecting problems and the diversity across subpopulation, geographic, and climate risk lines. For example, there is evidence that girls and women face more significant systemic adversity related to climate change, and impacts such as food and water insecurity are compounded by resultant conflict and deteriorated infrastructure. However, there is a lack of data pertaining to these risks and how they are unfolding, which impedes prevention and crisis response planning, policy development, and risk modelling. 


There are some clear directions for addressing this problem which are supported by academic literature and a recent think tank of global experts:

  1. Efforts to intervene should concentrate on systemic responses to inadequate housing. In most contexts, these prevention efforts should occur in conjunction with crisis response activities, given the growing number of individuals displaced by weather extremes and exposed to the elements.
  2. Equity in crisis response will require advocacy and education in jurisdictions where homeless individuals are not considered in disaster planning and other risk mitigation efforts (e.g., green urban infrastructure). Planning and implementation should involve close collaboration with direct service providers and individuals with lived experience to develop an effective early-intervention response. 

Who to Contact to Learn More

Sean Kidd is a Clinical Psychologist who has worked extensively in the area of youth homelessness. He is a Senior Scientist at CAMH and an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. He is leading a collaboration that is looking at climate-homelessness issues with support from the Living Within the Earth’s Carrying Capacity initiative of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). 

For more on the work of this group, see:

The analysis and interpretations contained in this blog post are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.