Vulnerability to Climate Related Events: A Case Study of the Homeless Population in Waterloo Region
de Gomez, Wendy
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Waterloo Region (population 470,000) is the eleventh largest urban region in Canada (2006 Census tract). Within this region, in 2007, 2,831 homeless people defined as commonly living or sleeping in indoor or outdoor spaces not intended for inhabitation used emergency shelters (Homelessness and Housing Group, 2008; Regional Municipality of Waterloo Region, 2007). It is expected that individuals who have inadequate or no permanent housing are particularly exposed and sensitive to environmental conditions such as extreme heat, cold events and poor air quality. Under climate change, it can be expected that the frequency of extreme events and days when air quality fails to meet healthy guidelines may increase. A wide survey of literature from environmental issues related to homelessness in first world countries has demonstrated that there is a research gap in understanding how urban citizens experiencing or facing homelessness adapt to environmental change. Therefore, this research addresses this gap by using both the vulnerability approach to local climate change assessments, and participatory action research to better understand the specificities of adaptation, the available services and future institutional strategies that could enhance the lives of this vulnerable population in relation to local environmental change. The conclusion is that people experiencing homelessness in Waterloo Region have a low vulnerability to climate related events as the social service system which they use is well developed and the climate related events are not severe. However, the vulnerability may increase in the future if service provision changes or if there is an increase in the duration, intensity and frequency of precipitation (rain) or extreme heat days.