Although climate change is a global issue, it disproportionately affects homeless populations due to increased exposure and vulnerability associated with homelessness. Climate change is defined as “"a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to climate variability observed over comparable time periods”  (p. 7)". Homelessness can be defined as circumstances in which “"an individual, family or community without stable, permanent, appropriate housing, or the immediate prospect, means and ability of acquiring it”  (p". 2)
An equity-based perspective on how climate change impacts individuals and populations is fundamental to improving and nuancing our understanding of the health and social effects of changing environments. Social vulnerability refers to the sensitivity of a population to natural hazards and the ability to respond to the impacts of those hazards . Socioeconomic disadvantage, race, and gender are key to social vulnerability–climate intersections. Impoverished and marginalized individuals and communities globally are more exposed to weather hazards that impact food security and health, threats to safety due to climate-linked conflict and social breakdown, and displacement and migration . These threats apply to both exposure and the resources with which a response can be generated and manifest as a function of sociopolitical and geographic factors. Furthermore, just as social vulnerability interacts with climate change, it also interacts with emerging climate change mitigation policies that can impose more significant burdens upon impoverished populations .
2. Key Themes
Some of the key themes related to climate change and homelessness are associated with migration and exposure and vulnerability. Migration and the associated issues are expected to increase due to climatic events. It is projected that energy insecurity will be exacerbated as a result of climate change and will lead to further loss of housing . And those of low SES and living in precarious housing tend to be unable to prepare for and recover from climatic events as few financial and social resources are available . Loss of housing for these populations frequently means migration to city slums. However, the poorest of the poor may be unable to migrate, which means staying in environmentally degraded areas . Thus, the availability of and opportunity to access the available services is essential. Further, it is recommended to focus on building low-cost housing relying on knowledge and practices of local dwellers; upgrading slums; and introducing rent-control policies.
Exposure and vulnerability of homeless populations render them more susceptible to climatic events and less able to prepare and respond to them. For instance, it is unclear if heat alerts reach the homeless populations . Further, cold temperatures appear to have more severe effects in wet weather conditions . Homeless populations also tend to be not included in the disaster planning. Thus, the health of the homeless and precariously housed populations is predicted to be affected negatively as a result of increased infectious and vector-borne diseases, exacerbated by more prevalent pre-existing conditions. Mental health is expected to deteriorate as well due to the experienced stress. Also, it is projected that violence, both family and interpersonal, may increase due to resource scarcity and stress.
2. Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA)
Given the wide range of interventions found (see Table 1), there is a need for a framework to better understand how to organize policy, planning, and practice responses. The HRBA could be useful as an integrative framework to help organize housing-related responses to climate change. Within the HRBA framework, extreme poverty is considered to be a violation of human rights. Consequently, those that are able to provide support are not seen as giving charity, but as having an “obligation to respect, protect and fulfill rights”  and are thus defined as duty bearers, whereas the beneficiaries are rights holders. The HRBA framework is particularly useful in the design and implementation of projects tailored to the demands of a given context.
|Homeless and vulnerably-housed populations and weather extremes:
|Housing and Urban planning:
The HRBA framework could be applied across a range of contexts where climate change is impacting or will impact homeless and marginally housed populations. The recommendations by Kjellstrom and Mercado, 2008 , for instance, can be adapted as follows: high-income countries (duty bearers) should provide funding to low-income countries (rights holders) to ensure the availability of necessary resources. Low-income countries, in turn, should act as duty bearers towards their citizens (rights holders), ensuring the appropriate use of funds.
Climate change and associated weather extremes present significant and immediate risks for populations lacking shelter. Climate change-related events seem to contribute to the prevalence of homelessness through migration, poverty, and other intersecting stressors. These problems are likely to become worse as the climate change emergency worsens, but there is a lack of reliable data syntheses of these risks and how they are unfolding, which hampers prevention and crisis response planning, policy development, and risk modeling. Thus, there is a need for the further identification and integration of research related to homelessness and housing precarity. However, efforts to intervene should concentrate on systemic responses to inadequate housing and lack of shelter. Prevention-oriented work, in most contexts, 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 experiencing homelessness and compromised health. Inclusion and equity in crisis response will require advocacy and education in most contexts 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 ways of engaging these marginalized populations and implementing strategies that are relevant to a given context. While activities targeting homeless and at-risk populations will be essential to reducing mortality and morbidity associated with climate change in this population, it will be crucial to integrate this work into broader risk mitigation and response efforts. Considering homelessness as a somehow separate entity from overall policy and planning considerations will likely lead to ongoing stigmatization, inefficiencies, and reduced effectiveness.
- 1. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change . United Nations. Retrieved 2021-6-3
- 2. Canadian Definition of Homelessness . Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. Retrieved 2021-6-3
- 3. Carleton, T.A.; Hsiang, S.M.; Social and economic impacts of climate. Science 2016, 353, aad9837-aad9837, 10.1126/science.aad9837.
- 4. Cutter, S.L.; Finch, C.; Temporal and spatial changes in social vulnerability to natural hazards. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2008, 105, 2301-2306, 10.1073/pnas.0710375105.
- 5. Otto, I.M.; Reckien, D.; Reyer, C.P.O.; Marcus, R.; Le Masson, V.; Jones, L.; Norton, A.; Serdeczny, O.; Social vulnerability to climate change: A review of concepts and evidence. Regional Environmental Change 2017, 17, 1651-1662, 10.1007/s10113-017-1105-9.
- 6. Markkanen, S.; Anger-Kraavi, A.; Social impacts of climate change mitigation policies and their implications for inequality. Climate Policy 2019, 19, 827-844, 10.1080/14693062.2019.1596873.
- 7. Jessel, S.; Sawyer, S.; Hernández, D.; Energy, poverty, and health in climate change: A comprehensive review of an emerging literature. Frontiers in Public Health 2019, 7, 357, 10.3389/fpubh.2019.00357.
- 8. Fothergill, A.; Peek, L.A.; Poverty and Disasters in the United States: A Review of Recent Sociological Findings. Natural Hazards 2004, 32, 89-110, 10.1023/b:nhaz.0000026792.76181.d9.
- 9. Leichenko, R.; Silva, J.A.; Climate change and poverty: vulnerability, impacts, and alleviation strategies. WIREs Climate Change 2014, 5, 539-556, 10.1002/wcc.287.
- 10. Bassil, K.L.; Cole, D.C.; Effectiveness of Public Health Interventions in Reducing Morbidity and Mortality during Heat Episodes: a Structured Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 2010, 7, 991-1001, 10.3390/ijerph7030991.
- 11. Kidd, S.A.; Greco, S.; McKenzie, K.; Global Climate Implications for Homelessness: A Scoping Review. Journal of Urban Health 2020, N/A, 1-9, 10.1007/s11524-020-00483-1.
- 12. Human Rights-Based Approach . The Danish Institute for Human Rights. Retrieved 2021-6-3
- 13. Kjellstrom, T.; Mercado, S.; Towards action on social determinants for health equity in urban settings. Environment and Urbanization 2008, 20, 551-574, 10.1177/0956247808096128.