“A changing climate threatens to undermine the past 50 years of gains in public health, disrupting the wellbeing of communities and the foundations on which health systems are built… These effects act to exacerbate existing inequities, with vulnerable populations within and between countries affected more frequently and with a more lasting impact.” (Watts et al., 2020, p.134 - The 2020 report of The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: Responding to converging crises.)
While climate change is having profound and increasing impacts on the health and wellbeing of all, the most marginalized individuals and communities feel its effects the most acutely. This is particularly the case for the many millions of inadequately housed and homeless persons globally. One of the many impacts of climate change and associated weather extremes is to compromise the housing and living circumstances of impoverished peoples. In turn, individuals lacking adequate shelter are the most exposed to weather extremes and the least supported in crisis response and risk mitigation efforts.
The objective of this initiative is to synthesize the best available information and recommendations in order to: (1) enhance policy, systems and service level planning for homeless populations as it relates to weather extremes and climate change, and (2) increase research activity in this area, guided by syntheses of existing work and the articulation of knowledge gaps.
- First and foremost, it would seem clear that climate change and associated weather extremes present significant and immediate risks for populations lacking shelter and, moreover, would seem to contribute to the prevalence of homelessness through housing loss, migration, poverty, and other intersecting stressors (e.g., conflict).
- These problems are likely worsening as the climate emergency worsens. These trends and impacts would appear to be complex – both in terms of the number of intersecting challenges that apply and diversity along subpopulation, geographic, and climate risk domains. However, there is a shortage of reliable data and analyses on these risks and how they are unfolding, which hampers prevention and crisis response planning, policy development, and risk modelling.
- There is a consensus that effective efforts to intervene should concentrate on systemic responses to inadequate housing and a lack of shelter. This would seem to be the far more leveraged and impactful approach. In most contexts, such prevention work will need to occur alongside crisis response activities given the large and growing number of individuals displaced by weather extremes and exposed to the elements while lacking shelter.
- Inclusion and 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 effective means of engaging and intervening with these marginalized populations.
- Climate change has disproportionately more significant impacts on impoverished people globally, particularly those without shelter or otherwise inadequately housed. These impacts are particularly pronounced for girls and women, Indigenous populations, and low-income contexts.
- The millions of homeless, dislocated and exposed people suffering the effects of weather extremes represent a health and humanitarian crisis that is not being substantively addressed in existing disaster and risk mitigation plans.
- Mitigating risk exposure through the provision of adequate housing is paramount, followed by crisis response efforts that involve co-design approaches with the individuals and communities most affected.
For more information, see: http://www.homelesshub.ca/climate-homelessness