Climate change and heatwaves: understanding the experiences and implications for unsheltered homeless populations. A scoping review


  • Jennifer Martin


Homelessness, Unsheltered Homeless Populations, Heatwave, Climate Change


Background: Climate change is a public health emergency and has implications for the health and wellbeing of global populations.  Unsheltered homeless populations are disproportionality exposed to climate change events due to the nature of homelessness and being without permanent adequate shelter. Homelessness is prevalent in high-income countries yet there is limited research available about their experiences and the implications for unsheltered people from climate change.   

Methods:  The purpose of the scoping review was to critically explore the impact of climate change on unsheltered people in high-income countries, and was directed by the review question; What is the experience of people who are unsheltered homeless during heatwaves in high-income countries and what are the implications from climate change?  The review followed the scoping review methodology as set out by Arskey and O’Malley (2005). 

Results:   A systematic scoping search generated 315 potential records, of which 10 studies were included in the final review.  Key themes were identified within studies as 1) climate change, weather, and health outcomes 2) Heatwaves, homelessness, and health 3) Exposure sensitivity & vulnerabilities 4) Adaptive capacity 5) Responses and service providers. 

Conclusion: Unsheltered people experiencing homelessness have unique characteristics and vulnerabilities that increase their exposure sensitivity to extreme weathers, particularly heatwaves.  Existing vulnerabilities are exasperated, and unsheltered people experience additional environmental, institutional, and social barriers which impact their ability to adapt to a changing climate.  Unsheltered people require targeted interventions aimed at building resilience to the conditions of homelessness and the impacts from climate change.