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Water Insecurity and Homeless Encampments in Los Angeles, California

Authors: Lourdes Johanna Avelar Portillo*, University of Southern California, Yao-Yi Chiang, University of Southern California, Meredith Franklin, University of Southern California, Xiaozhe Yin, University of Southern California, Angelica Vasquez, University of Southern California, Charlene Ko, University of Southern California, Jimena Gonzalez Orcajo, University of Southern California, Diego Jose Avelar, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, Nayib Alvarenga, University of Southern California, Yanyi Qian, Peking University, Jose Jesus Rico, University of Southern California, Kate Nichole Vavra-Musser, University of Southern California, Cameron Levine, University of Southern California
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Urban Geography, Geography and Urban Health
Keywords: Homelessness, Water Insecurity, Access Equity, WaSH, Los Angeles
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2020
Start / End Time: 10:15 AM / 11:30 AM
Room: Virtual Track 3
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WaSH) are foundational human needs and human rights; however, the unsheltered homeless do not have safe, equitable, and sufficient access to these services. At the same time, city policies exist that actively criminalize peoples’ ability to exist in public spaces, making it more challenging to address homelessness. Homeless encampments have become increasingly visible in urban and rural communities across the nation. Los Angeles (LA) is a prime example of an urban area struggling with a rising rate of homelessness: on any given night in 2019, the LA Homeless Services Authority reports that approximately 59,000 people experienced homelessness, 75% of which are unsheltered. The proportion of unsheltered homeless shines light on the severe living conditions of this extremely marginalized population, living with little to no access to basic human services, including access to water. To provide a deeper understanding of urban water insecurity, we performed a quantitative analysis of 397 surveys of people experiencing homelessness collected between July 2018 and June 2019. This study uses urban water insecurity as a lens to examine homelessness and address the role water plays in the lives of the unsheltered homeless. Our findings indicate that (1) inaccessibility to 24-hour public services leads to inhumane coping mechanisms, (2) access to WaSH services is dictated based on gender, race, and age (3) water insecurity increases the risk of public health outbreaks, and (4) demonstrates the need for informed public policies to better address homelessness with more equitable and intersectional solutions.

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