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Climate Change and its Effect on Those Struggling with Homelessness

Climate change continues to affect millions of people worldwide. However, it affects those who suffer from homelessness more severely due to their lack of shelter and materials. Moreover, climate change has been the reason many have lost their homes and all their possessions.  

Climate Change

For years climate change has forced people into homelessness. Since the Industrial Revolution, humanity has continued to burn fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, at an unsustainable rate. The burning of fossil fuels releases greenhouse gasses into our environment, which then get trapped in the atmosphere trapping heat and absorbing heat radiation. This heat radiation has caused global warming, which has resulted in climate change. 

Today we are seeing an increase in global temperature, stronger storms, increased drought, rising oceans, warming oceans, a lack of food, and a loss of species diversity. 

Specifically, in California, we see less and less water. In addition, California just had its driest winter in 100 years, putting even more strain on California. As a result, California is currently operating under drought emergency protocol. 

The threat of an extreme fire season looms as drought continues to plague California. The lack of water makes the land drier and can easily catch fire. As a result, fire can lead to thousands of people being displaced. For instance, the 2018 Camp Fire near Paradise, CA, burned down 18,804 structures, displacing nearly 50,000 people. 

Displacement Due to The Effects of Climate Change: 2018 CampFire

As stated above, tens of thousands lost their homes in the 2018 CampFire. Additionally, California is starting to experience MegaFires. Many people tried to flee to relatives and friends homes; however, many did not have any friends or family in the area, so they turned to shelters and local assistance.

Today many people still live in the tents they were first given when they lost their homes. After the fire, local shelters were full. There were no beds to spare, so people began to build tent communities or sleep in their cars. This caused a lot of tension with the existing community suffering homelessness. They began competing for existing resources and space. Butte County eventually had to declare a state of emergency. 

Since the fire in 2018, only roughly 2,000 homes have been rebuilt. This is partly because the CampFire savaged poverty-stricken communities where many members could not afford to purchase fire insurance. 

There is still a struggle to help those who have fallen into homelessness due to the CampFire. In addition, many are still dealing with the psychological fallout of watching their whole lives burn away and survivors’ guilt knowing 85 people in their community have died. These mental health struggles have led many to struggle with drug addiction to cope with everything they have been facing. Even potentially get more into how their mental health is affected!

Furthermore, State and Local regulations have limited people’s ability to move back to where they originally were . Many people cannot afford to bring their lands up to code with local regulations, such as; having a functional septic tank that costs to install and have inspected.   

Those still displaced due to the fire are also at a greater risk of another fire breaking out in the same area. In addition, every fire season is getting hotter and drier, putting people at a greater risk for fire and heat stroke. 

It is very likely that portions of the Bay Area will be underwater in the future due to rising sea levels. Several areas threatened by rising sea levels are areas of poverty and low-income housing. Many people living here cannot afford safe, affordable housing in the area. This may result in a steep increase in the number of people affected by homelessness.   

Weather Effects on People Suffering Homelessness

Often living in California, we forget about severe weather patterns in the Midwest and East Coast. Yet, Midwest and East Coast communities experience severe winter storms and severe summer temperatures accompanied by humidity. 

Cities like Chicago, Illinois, maintain some of the most significant seasonal variations. The winters can drop to 20 below, and the summers can reach up to 100 degrees. 

For residents with housing, weather variations are an easy fix; however, for the population of residents suffering homelessness, surviving these days is life or  death. Unfortunately, when city officials care more for appearances than keeping their people safe, many officials will confiscate tents and propane heaters in the winter, leaving people who suffer homelessness out in the freezing temperature to die. 

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 700 people experiencing or at risk for homelessness can die of hypothermia a year. 

For Californians, the biggest fear is heat stroke. . As the summers become hotter, there is a possibility that many people struggling with homelessness will suffer heat stroke and, in some cases, can die. Similarly, the temperatures will soar as California enters into more severe drought conditions, especially in larger cities where Urban Heat Island- a phenomenon in which surfaces such as concrete, cement, and asphalt absorb and store heat, resulting in extremely hot surface temperatures- is prominent. 

According to NBC News, heat-related illnesses result in 1,500 deaths, and advocates believe roughly half those deaths come from those struggling with homelessness. 

Air Quality Issues

Amongst populations struggling with homelessness, chronic and respiratory diseases are common. This is in part due to lack of medical care, lack of required prescription drugs, extreme poverty, mental illness or drug abuse issues. People suffering from homelessness are often immunocompromised due to pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, heart conditions and cancer. Unfortunately, these factors can put those struggling with homelessness in a predicament regarding poor air quality. 

On days of poor air quality, for example where fires are burning and smoke is invading towns, the government recommends anyone with breathing issues or those that are immunocompromised to stay inside for their safety and health. However, those who struggle with homelessness cannot afford that luxury. 

Irritation of the previous condition can lead to life-threatening issues where people can die. Furthermore, breathing in harmful toxins can result in the aggregation of pre-existing conditions. This agitation left untreated, often due to lack of access and funds, can lead to death or worsening symptoms. 

What Can You Do

The best way to help is to figure out how to reach your city’s homeless hotline service. Concerned publics or individuals suffering from homelessness can call a hotline number, and services will be dispatched. 

San Francisco Hotline #: 415-355-7401  

San Jose Hotline #: 408-385-2400 

Oakland Hotline #: 1(800) 774-3583

Resources:

https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/why-climate-change-happening-and-what-are-causes 

https://www.npr.org/2019/11/09/777801169/the-camp-fire-destroyed-11-000-homes-a-year-later-only-11-have-been-rebuilt#:~:text=At%20one%20point%20displacing%20close,in%20the%20world%20last%20year

https://www.redding.com/story/news/2021/10/26/study-why-california-wildfires-burn-some-homes-spare-others/8429224002/ 

https://drought.ca.gov/current-drought-conditions/

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-08-04/displaced-by-camp-fire-california-nomads-fear-eviction 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2021/08/18/dixie-fire-rescue-red-cross/

https://www.kqed.org/science/1973624/maps-see-which-bay-area-locations-are-at-risk-from-rising-seas 

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/03/us/california-fire-homeless.html 

https://time.com/5515913/chicago-homeless-winter/

https://nationalhomeless.org/tag/hypothermia/#:~:text=NCH’s%20Winter%20Services%20report%20found,year%20were%20due%20to%20hyperthermia

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/hundreds-homeless-die-extreme-heat-rcna34409 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2704276/ 

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