People who live in shelters, on the streets, or in temporary housing often are affected by poor health, mental illness, addiction, unemployment, and limited resources and social supports. When a natural or man-made disaster happens, they are particularly vulnerable and are more likely to fall into deeper crisis.
Unfortunately, many disaster response efforts do not take into account the special needs of this population, either immediately before and during a disaster or in the hours, days, and months that follow. Vulnerable populations might not get warnings or evacuation support and are often turned away or evicted from disaster shelters and services because the facilities are not prepared to address their needs. A gap in planning for homeless populations can have significant negative consequences, both for vulnerable people and for others who need help and rely on the mainstream systems which can break down when they are stressed. Similar gaps exist in long term recovery investment, which tend to focus on restoring what existed before the disaster; however, for people experiencing homelessness, what existed before was not a desired situation. Communities should design recovery so that what they build after the disaster is an improvement from what existed before.
This toolkit is for communities that want to address effectively the needs of homeless and vulnerable populations through comprehensive disaster planning, response and recovery, and long-term recovery. The toolkit features a set of related guides that offer information and resources to take local governments, service providers, and others through the process of planning and implementing a disaster response and recovery effort that serves all members of their community.
Local governments and service providers need to collaborate to meet the needs of homeless and vulnerable populations during and after a disaster. This toolkit offers a framework for this collaboration.
Government staff and service providers bring different interests, skills, and backgrounds to disaster planning, response, and recovery. This diverse experience enhances their efforts, but can lead to misunderstanding. This toolkit features resources such as Planners and Providers: Bridging the Gap to help break down those barriers and put everyone on the same page.
In this toolkit, "homeless people" or "people experiencing homelessness" refers to people who are living in places not designed for human habitation, living in emergency shelters or transitional housing, fleeing domestic violence, or in imminent danger of losing their housing. Many people who are not currently homeless are extremely vulnerable to becoming homeless after a disaster due to their economic, health, or social circumstances. They are considered “vulnerable populations” and will often need the same services and support after a disaster as people who are homeless. Many communities fail to plan for these vulnerable populations. This toolkit helps jurisdictions anticipate the needs of those who are currently homeless as well as those who share their vulnerabilities and may become homeless when disaster strikes. (For more information on HUD's definition of homeless see the "Homeless" Definition Final Rule.)