Homelessness and climate change: An exploratory initiative by Ouranos and the Observatoire québécois des inégalités
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Beyond rising temperatures, more frequent extreme weather events and other climate disruptions, the effects of climate change are impacting different social facets of our communities.

Last fall, in collaboration with the Observatoire québécois des inégalités, Ouranos laid the groundwork for an exploratory initiative to document the relationship between climate change and people experiencing homelessness. 

Here is an overview of this initiative launched by Nathalie Bleau, scientific programming coordinator at Ouranos, and implemented by Ariane Préfontaine, researcher-in-residence, and Marianne-Sarah Saulnier, researcher, both of the Observatoire québécois des inégalités.

Why does this matter?

People experiencing homelessness, such as unhoused people in Western cities, are the first to suffer the effects of climate change. For them, these effects are amplified, and they have few means to avoid them. However, there is a dearth of documentation on the links between these two issues, although it is well established that climate change is increasing socio-economic inequalities and that these effects will worsen in the future if nothing is done.

Homelessness is a phenomenon that is currently stuck in a blind spot in terms of research on the impacts of climate change, which means that it is often left out of mainstream thinking on the climate.

And so, when it comes to adaptation solutions and public action on the climate, little attention is paid to the viewpoints of the people who are experiencing it.

In the context of a new climate reality involving the implementation of adaptation solutions, and a homelessness crisis that needs to be addressed, it seems to us to be of great importance to address the relationship between these two complex issues.

This initiative arose from a recommendation stemming from an internship report conducted in 2021, which was co-supervised by Ouranos and the Observatoire québécois des inégalités.

What does the initiative consist of?

This is pre-research project that aims to fill in the gaps in the literature regarding the vulnerability of people experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity to climate change, as well as the differentiated impacts of climate change adaptation measures on these populations in Quebec.

What are the expected results?

To begin with, based on the existing literature and some interviews with people working in the field, a broad initial assessment of this problem will be done, without being exhaustive. This will make the topic more visible.

That step will end next March. In accordance with the recommendations emerging from it, we would then like to develop a larger research project, the outcome of which would improve adaptation measures for unhoused people and promote the inclusion of this population in climate-related thinking and policies.

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