Emergency Preparedness Planning For The Homeless

Homelessness is a growing problem in the United States, and all too often those who find themselves living on the streets are disabled American veterans and/or the elderly.  When your income is so low that you can’t afford to pay the rent and eat too, then living on the street becomes a reality.  Many of the homeless find the “golden years” are anything but golden.

There are certainly valiant efforts being made to reduce or eliminate homelessness, but for those people still living under a freeway bypass or in a garbage dumpster, life becomes a dangerous existence indeed. 

Have you ever thought about what happens to the homeless when disaster strikes? 

Many of these individuals are coping with mental illness; even if they make it through a disaster, putting their lives back together may be more than they can cope with.

Part of Emergency Preparedness Planning involves “sheltering in place.”  This is a term used to indicate that it is dangerous to be outside (because of radiation, toxic fumes, etc.), and the best practice is to remain in your home with the windows and doors sealed until the “All Clear!” is given. 

So what happens during and after a disaster to those individuals who are homeless?  Or, if your shelter is the local Rescue Mission where you are required to leave during the day -- how do you shelter in place when you have no place?   

What may be worse is that veterans living on the street are often there as a result of having PTSD.  An emergency, or even emergency responders, may trigger PTSD symptoms.  The sound of sirens and alarms from rescue workers can trigger flashbacks.

So what does a homeless person with a disability do when an emergency arises?  

That is something that needs to be addressed in our local emergency preparedness plans.   Shelters must be made available to homeless people too.  Perhaps even more important, our homeless individuals need the supports necessary to help them get back on their feet and take their place in society again before a disaster strikes.  We hope that time isn’t far off.