Homelessness and Climate Change: A Roundup of Resources for Communities Before, During, and After Disasters
Climate change has resulted in more frequent and severe natural disasters that can displace people from their homes and put lives at risk. People experiencing homelessness—especially people from underserved and marginalized communities, including Black and Latino/a populations and tribal nations—face even greater health and safety risks during (and less ability to prepare for and recover from) wildfires, floods, hurricanes, and other climate-related crises. For example, without proper planning and implementation by emergency response systems, people experiencing homelessness may not receive disaster communications, may be left out of evacuation plans, and may not be welcome or appropriately cared for in disaster shelters. Further, people experiencing unsheltered homelessness are particularly vulnerable to environmental disasters and hazards, and the criminalization of homelessness can worsen these impacts by displacing people to more environmentally toxic areas.
This resource roundup provides an inventory of tools that can help communities develop strategies to address the unique needs of people experiencing homelessness before, during, and after environmental disasters and hazards. The resources cover the following topics:
- Relevant Federal Funding
- Disaster Preparedness
- Disaster Response
- Disaster Recovery
- Environmental Hazards
- Engaging People Experiencing Homelessness
- Community and Federal Contacts for Coordination
This is a non-exhaustive roundup of federal funding, guidance, and information-sharing. Let USICH know if we missed any resources by emailing Alec.Vandenberg@usich.gov.
Federal Agency Abbreviations
- CDC = Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- ED = U.S. Department of Education
- EPA = U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- FEMA = Federal Emergency Management Agency
- HHS = U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- HUD = U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
- NIH = National Institutes of Health
- SAMHSA = Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- VA = U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Relevant Federal Funding
While no single federal program specifically addresses all the needs of people experiencing homelessness in response to climate-induced hazards or disasters, relevant funding for communities includes:
- The Public Assistance Program can provide emergency shelter to the entire community after a disaster. The program provides supplemental grants to state, tribal, territorial, and local governments as well as certain private nonprofits. (FEMA)
- “Recovery Resources to Provide Housing and Services to Persons Experiencing Homelessness” summarizes the largest funding sources to support disaster recovery activities related to preventing and ending homelessness. For example, in October 2022, HUD deployed the first round of RUSH funding. This resource does not, however, list all eligible activities for each funding source. (HUD)
- The EPA’s new Environmental Justice Grants, Funding and Technical Assistance provides funding for financial and technical assistance to carry out environmental and climate justice activities to benefit underserved and overburdened communities. (EPA)
- The Disaster Recovery Homelessness Toolkit’s Local Planning Guide provides a blueprint for community planning that brings together organizations and people who can address the needs of people experiencing homelessness during a disaster. (HUD)
- The Office of Disaster Recovery Newsletter highlights news and announcements for CDBG Disaster Recovery and CDBG Mitigation grantees. Click here for the June 2023 volume. (HUD)
- “When Crises Collide: Supporting the Homeless through Community Resiliency & Service Coordination” is a video on preparedness (as well as post-disaster) resources for public-sector agencies, housing providers, and local governments in high-risk areas. (HUD)
- The Disaster Preparedness Newsletter overviews how previous disasters show that certain groups face greater risk during and after disasters, what barriers exist, and how to support the resilience of the whole community. (CDC)
- The Planning for Individuals Experiencing Homelessness Page provides guidance on how to work effectively with people experiencing homelessness before, during, and after a disaster, with particular attention on how climate crises can retraumatize people with histories of trauma. (SAMHSA)
- Disaster Preparedness to Promote Community Resiliency provides strategies to integrate homeless service providers into emergency management systems, to ensure homeless service providers are capable of providing essential services after disasters, and to prepare health-care providers to address health-related needs of people experiencing homelessness. (VA, HHS, HUD)
- The Disaster Recovery Homelessness Toolkit’s Disaster Response Guide for Local Jurisdictions uses the framework of “federal emergency support functions” to offer advice and relevant strategies. (HUD)
- The Disaster Response for Homeless Individuals and Families: A Trauma-Informed Approach Page provides guidance for effectively serving people experiencing homelessness, who typically have limited resources and past exposure to traumatic events, which puts them at higher risk of adverse physical and psychological reactions to a disaster. (Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response)
- The Disaster Preparation and Response Page explains how the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act applies to and can be used to help students and their families displaced by disaster. (ED)
- The Disaster Recovery Homelessness Toolkit's Recovery Guide for Local Jurisdictions describes strategies to use the rebuilding process and its resources to meet the needs of all residents. (HUD)
- Helping LGBTQ+ Survivors After Disasters: Response and Recovery Considerations Roundtables identified existing activities that incorporate LGBTQI+ considerations into disaster preparedness, gaps in existing activities, and actionable and creative solutions to address these gaps. (FEMA)
- The “High Water Mark Meeting: Riverside Levee Rehab Project” Presentation highlights Riverside County Flood Control’s work to engage encampments during a levee rehabilitation project. (FEMA)
- The Managing the Unexpected: The Role of Homeless Service Providers During the 2017–2018 California Wildfires Study details the significant risks that people experiencing homelessness faced and how homeless service organizations were an essential safety net. (NIH)
Engaging People Experiencing Homelessness
As communities develop and implement relevant policies and practices to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters and environmental hazards, they must intentionally, meaningfully, and effectively engage people who are or have experienced homelessness—in particular people of color, people identifying as LGBTQIA+, and other historically marginalized groups who are overrepresented among people experiencing homelessness and groups who face the brunt of the climate crisis.
- “Engaging Individuals With Lived Expertise”—which was created by consultants who have experienced homelessness—provides guidance on the value of meaningful engagement, essential considerations for meaningful engagement, and meaningful engagement for community planning processes. (HUD)
- The Partnering With Persons With Lived Experience Lessons Learned Webinar covered takeaways from the “Partnering With Persons With Lived Experience Community” Workshops. (HUD)
- The Engaging People With Lived Experience to Improve Federal Research, Policy, and Practice Page provides resources on how federal agencies and programs can meaningfully and effectively engage people with lived experience. (HHS)
Contacts for Coordination
Preparing for, responding to, and recovering from environmental disasters and hazards requires collaboration among people experiencing homelessness; local, state, and federal leaders; disaster preparedness teams; health and human services departments; environmental services; affordable housing developers; and the philanthropy and faith communities; and others.
Community and Grantee Contacts
- The Continuum of Care (CoC) is the regional or local planning body that coordinates housing and services funding for people experiencing homelessness. Find your communities' CoC here.
- State emergency management agencies develop plans and procedures, and coordinate resources, for responding to and recovering from disasters. Find your state’s emergency management agency here.
- The American Red Cross meets the immediate disaster-caused needs of people and communities. Find your local American Red Cross here.
- State, local, and tribal health departments play a crucial role in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from emergencies and disasters of all kinds. Find your local health department here.
- State and local air quality partners regulate and/or oversee air quality, air quality planning, permitting, and enforcement. Find your state and local air quality partners here.
- The Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition is a group of more than 860 local, state, and national organizations dedicated to ensuring the federal response to disaster recovery prioritizes the housing needs of the lowest income people in the impacted areas.
- Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster help mitigate and alleviate the impact of disasters by serving as a forum for communication and coordination and by fostering more effective delivery of services. Find your Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster here.
- State Coordinators for the Education of Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness implement the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act in their state to meet the needs of children and youth experiencing homelessness. Find your state coordinator here.
Federal Government Contacts
Many federal government agencies play a role in disaster preparation, response, and recovery; and most have regional offices or coordinators that work directly with state and local organizations across the country. Click the links below to find your regional contact for the following federal agencies:
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
- Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
- Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
- Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
All In: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness
The Biden-Harris administration recognizes that climate change, as well as long-standing environmental injustice, drive housing instability and homelessness and take an inequitable toll on people already experiencing homelessness. All In includes specific strategies to address the impact of climate change on homelessness:
- Encouraging Continuums of Care, especially in rural and tribal areas, to have an inclusive community crisis response plan in the event of an emergency or a local surge in the need for shelter and/or housing placements;
- Enhancing and expanding technical assistance and training on disaster response and recovery planning for homelessness systems with special attention to the disparate impact to already unhoused people;
- Facilitating greater collaboration between federal partners that play a key role on disaster and public health response—including the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security—and national emergency management associations and trade groups—including the National Emergency Management Association, International Association of Emergency Managers, and Association of Healthcare Emergency Preparedness Professionals;
- Continuing to encourage state emergency management agencies to include people experiencing homelessness in their disaster response and emergency management protocols with attention to particularly vulnerable populations such as older adults and people with disabilities who are experiencing homelessness, and;
- Increasing collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency to focus on better understanding how climate change will exacerbate the condition of homelessness.
For more on how USICH can help your community prevent and end homelessness, contact your state’s USICH senior regional advisor.