The climate crisis and the housing crisis: Considering climate change repercussions for homeless and marginally housed populations

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About the project

While climate change has profound and increasing impacts on the health and well-being 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.

Emerging evidence has documented how climate change compromises the housing and living circumstances of impoverished peoples, creates homelessness through waves of climate migrants, and drives suffering and deteriorating health for those most exposed to weather extremes. At the outset of this project, however, knowledge syntheses in this area were lacking. 

The objective of this initiative is to employ systematic literature reviews and global think tanks to (1) enhance policy, systems and service level planning for homeless populations as they relate 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.

Key findings

  • First and foremost, it would seem clear that climate change and associated weather extremes present significant and immediate risks for populations lacking shelter. Moreover, climate change 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 grows and are particularly acute in low-income contexts. These trends and impacts would appear to be complicated—both in terms of the number of intersecting challenges that apply and the diversity along subpopulation, geographic and climate risk domains. 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.

Policy implications

The findings of this project point to the following recommendations for policy-makers:

  • In the development of risk mitigation initiatives and extreme weather response planning, explicitly request and require that the needs of homeless and marginally housed populations are addressed. 
  • Encourage and provide resources for the generation of better data related to the climate-homelessness connection. This will include data to inform risk prediction/modelling and qualitative and quantitative data to inform locally relevant and sustainable responses. 
  • Encourage efforts to prevent and end homelessness as being fundamental to ameliorating the human impacts of climate change. 
  • When generating aid strategies for low- and middle-income countries where the climate change impacts are most acute, include attention to housing in proposal requirements and accountability metrics. 

Further information

Read the full report

Contact the researchers

Sean A. Kidd, Ph.D., Associate Professor – University of Toronto Department of Psychiatry; Senior Scientist – Centre for Addiction and Mental Health;

The views expressed in this evidence brief are those of the authors and not those of SSHRC, NSERC, CIHR and the Government of Canada

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