The main objective of disaster management is to have an effective plan in place before the event occurs. However, emergency planning is often not prioritized in the allocation of time and resources; particularly for health and social service providers who must dedicate often scant resources to addressing the significant demands of providing direct client services. As a result, little attention is dedicated to effectively plan for vulnerable populations, such as the homeless population. Such planning is necessary to protect their lives and to protect the lives of the general population. While there is a well-documented need for pandemic planning to address high-risk populations, these efforts have often overlooked the complex situations and vulnerabilities of homeless people.
Homelessness presents key challenges for emergency and pandemic planning due to complex health, situational, and structural vulnerabilities. It is widely documented that homeless people suffer from much poorer health status and health outcomes than the general population (Chambers et al., 2014; Daiski, 2007; Fischer & Breakey, 1991; Frankish, Hwang, & Quantz, 2005; Hwang, 2001; Hwang et al., 2011; Hwang, Wilkins, Tjepkema, O’Campo, & Dunn, 2009; Khandor et al., 2011; Krausz et al., 2013; Pauly, 2014; Perry & Craig, 2015; Sasaki, Kobayashi, & Agui, 2002; Snow, Baker, Anderson, & Martin, 1986). These medical and health related issues combine with social exclusion to create particularly significant vulnerability to infectious disease transmission and recovery. Using social exclusion as an analytic framework, Gaetz and Buccieri highlighted earlier in this book the challenges created by homeless people’s severely restricted access to social and economic goods and institutions, as well as the spatial marginalization created by their segregation from broader society’s living arrangements and access to services. Waegemakers Schiff, Pauly, and Schiff also highlight in a chapter of this book the ways in which homeless people in Canada have profoundly different health status and health service utilization when compared to the general population. These medical and health care challenges lead to increased individual vulnerability to infectious disease and transmission among the broader population.