Los Angeles Homelessness and the Human Right to Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene

Authors: Lourdes Johanna Avelar Portillo*, University of Southern California, Yao-Yi Chiang, University of Southern California, Jose Rico, University of Southern California, Yanyi Qian, Peking University, Kate Vavra-Musser, University of Southern California, Xiaozhe Yin, University of Southern California
Topics: Urban Geography, Water Resources and Hydrology, Geography and Urban Health
Keywords: Homelessness, Water Access, WaSH, Human Rights
Session Type: Poster
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Lincoln 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Homelessness is a problem increasingly visible in many urban and rural communities that have rendered these marginalized people invisible. In Los Angeles County, approximately 53,000 people experience homelessness in a single-night, 4,000 of which reside in downtown’s “Skid Row” (LASHA, 2018). In the past months, cases of hepatitis A and murine typhus outbreaks have been reported in Skid Row. These infectious diseases are associated with poor living environments and inadequate access to basic water, sanitation, and hygiene services (WaSH). This study addresses homelessness using water security as a lens to look beyond the provisioning of housing (a long-term goal). It examines how access to basic WaSH services can be a form of immediate intervention provided to the homeless in order to 1) restore their human dignity, 2) improve their living environments, which would then lead to 3) the reduction of future health outbreaks and systems of environmental injustices. Using a total of 134 in-depth interviews and surveys, this study highlights the inequity of access to WaSH services as experienced by homeless persons based on their gender, race, and age. Additionally, it sheds light to health inequities experienced in water insecure spaces. Significant improvements are needed in better addressing homelessness such as identifying different forms of vulnerability when accessing WaSH services, identifying how we can better serve this population, and which services might work best, in combating cases of water-related disease outbreaks.

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