Extreme Heat and the Unhoused

The unhoused are usually the first to die when extreme heat sets in. They are at a 200 – 300 times higher risk for heat-related mortality than sheltered people and account for nearly half of all recorded heat-related deaths. Compounding the gravity of these numbers is the rise in homelessness across the nation – a whopping 12% in 2023.

Although the unhomed carry a disproportionately high burden for extreme heat, there has been limited research and attention on heat-related disparities among unhomed populations; like the phenomena of extreme heat, the “silent killer,” unhoused individuals are similarly invisible and overlooked. Nonetheless, it is evident that the unhoused struggle with multiple heat-related challenges, including accessing cooling centers, staying hydrated, and securing shade. Overall, the unhomed have limited or non-existent safe options for sheltering from extreme heat. High rates of chronic disease, mental health disorders, substance use, and public apathy further compound their vulnerability and risk to extreme heat.

Until recently, the focus for temperatures and unhomed population has largely been directed toward cold weather rather than hot weather; attention and resources now need to be redirected as climate change makes extreme heat more deadly and life-threatening for the unhomed. It is urgent that the unhomed be prioritized in research and heat-mitigating interventions.

Help build awareness for policy change.