Houseless Community Exposure to Environmental Hazards

Authors: Erin Goodling*, University of Oregon
Topics: Urban Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology, Hazards and Vulnerability
Keywords: homeless, environmental justice, environmental hazards, grassroots, pollution, intersectionality
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Executive Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

A growing number of houseless people are organizing tent city and tiny house village communities across the US. While houseless communities provide many benefits to residents and surrounding neighborhoods, they are sometimes established on polluted sites. Yet, little is known about how environmental justice (EJ) issues impact houseless communities and individuals. Addressing this gap is paramount to more fully understanding the myriad dimensions of environmental (in)justice, particularly for groups who are not part of the traditional EJ movement. This paper reports on findings from a national phone survey of houseless community representatives. I argue that the experience of environmental injustice for houseless people is not only about direct exposure to toxins, but also a lack of access to adequate infrastructure, such as water and sanitation services. Moreover, the local state uses exposure to toxins and lack of infrastructure access to justify evicting people, ostensibly in the name of EJ. By bringing attention to the multi-dimensional ways in which environmental hazards impact houseless communities, these preliminary findings contribute to a baseline empirical account of the EJ issues that houseless people face. They also suggest several questions germane to critical EJ’s intersectional concerns: What are the racial demographics of houseless-run communities, and why? Does being houseless put one in a racialized and class category that challenges traditional understandings of race/class—and how do EJ challenges further complicate such categorizations? When viewed through a lens of gender, what EJ concerns come to light for houseless people?

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