Why Use The Guide

The Importance of an Inclusive Planning Process

Steps at a Glance

How the Guide Can Help Your Community

This Local Planning Guide outlines a community planning process that brings together organizations and individuals who can address the needs of homeless and other vulnerable populations in a disaster. Without this inclusive planning process, vulnerable members of your community will be overlooked, people will suffer, and the overall response and recovery effort will be hindered.

The Local Planning Guide is designed to help your community ensure your disaster plan addresses the needs of homeless and other vulnerable populations. This guide details the steps you can take to:

  • Identify vulnerable populations in your community and anticipate their needs during disaster response and recovery.
  • Involve partners who can help you understand the issues and identify relevant resources.
  • Discuss strategies to address the needs of homeless and other vulnerable populations.
  • Improve your community’s plans for disaster response to ensure the needs of all community members are recognized and addressed.
  • Change the mindset in the community so that people in unacceptable situations find a better system of supports after the disaster than before the disaster.

Who Should Use the Guide

This guide is designed for:

  1. The planning lead in a local government such as a county or city. This may include one or more local offices, departments, or individuals, across more than one Entitlement Community, who will direct the effort to integrate the needs of homeless and other vulnerable people into local disaster planning. The planning lead will work with partners to carry out the planning activities. The guide “speaks to” the planning lead.
  1. Other local government representatives and members of the homeless service provider network. Elected officials, city or county managers, law enforcement, and community development staff can use this guide to better understand the needs of vulnerable populations and enhance disaster response. Service providers can use the guide to become more familiar with their local jurisdiction’s planning process and be more active in disaster planning.

Can Your Community Cope?

Without comprehensive planning, homeless and vulnerable populations are likely to experience more significant losses and problems after a disaster and the very event of failure to serve them will disrupt the mainstream response. Your local community may find your systems and resources stretched by unexpected demands. For example:

  • People experiencing homelessness are often suspicious of law enforcement. If police officers are tasked with organizing the evacuation of encampments along the banks of a flooding river, they may find themselves ineffective, but if they stay and continue to try, it will tie up their resources and ultimately not serve the homeless persons there. Knowing to send outreach workers or the medics and fire department will be more effective and will use all resources more efficiently.
  • People who are homeless have often suffered trauma, and might also struggle with mental illness. If a disaster shelter is unprepared to deal with people in great mental distress, the reaction could be to turn those people away. Not only can this make the situation worse for the homeless individual, it can also traumatize the untrained shelter workers themselves and cause additional chaos in the shelter.
  • People with long-term alcohol or drug abuse can suffer significant medical consequences from an abrupt cessation of drinking or drug use. Disaster shelters that are not prepared to deal with this medical condition face the choice of creating a medical emergency (tying up medical support services) or evicting a person who is vulnerable to potential seizures and death.
  • Most people who are homeless do not have a home that will be restored through conventional disaster recovery processes. The challenge to every jurisdiction that experiences a disaster is how to use disaster recovery investments (some of which are quite flexible) to create a community that has more affordable housing development and a better coordination of services than before the disaster.

 

Step 1: Check

Find out what disaster planning has taken place

Why you should take this step

Some disaster planning probably has already taken place in your community. No need to reinvent the wheel. Find out who was involved and what was accomplished. Were homeless and vulnerable populations addressed? Were they consulted? Does the plan identify special actions for these populations such as sheltering, mass evacuations for people without vehicles, mental health services? Do not be alarmed if these populations aren’t mentioned. Here is your chance to make that happen.

What you'll get from doing this step

Understanding your community's gaps in planning for homeless and vulnerable populations in disasters.

The biggest issue you might face in completing this step...

Relevant resources might be scattered across various agencies and points of contact. Neighboring Community Development Block Grant Entitlement Communities may have overlapping plans. Consider state, county, and city plans. Cast a wide net to locate all the information you can on any existing plans and find out who is responsible for maintaining plans for your community.

If you can only do one part of this step...

Identify who is responsible for disaster planning in your jurisdiction. Get in touch with that person or group to understand how homeless and vulnerable populations were included in earlier planning.
 

 

Tools to use for this step

 
Find Your Local Disaster Plans (PDF)
Locate existing disaster planning documents and contact information

Assess Your Community's Disaster Plans (PDF)
Checklist to determine if the needs of homeless populations are addressed in existing plans

More Information on Disaster Planning (PDF)
Survey to get perspectives and insights from key individuals

Standard Terms: Disaster Planning and Homelessness Services (PDF)
List of common terms used in disaster planning and response to homelessness

 

Step 2: Involve

Get the Right People Together

Why you should take this step

No individual has all the knowledge and skills needed to identify issues and solutions for homeless populations in a disaster. You will need to build a network of people who have deep understanding of your community, disaster planning, and homelessness. All communities have a Continuum of Care (CoC) organization that coordinates work to end homelessness (note that your area could be covered by a "Balance of State" CoC if there is not a CoC in your city or county). Work with the CoC leadership. Let homeless service providers know about existing disaster preparedness plans, involve them and their clients in developing knowledge about persons experiencing homeless and other vulnerable populations, and gain their commitment to working on plan improvements.

What you'll get from doing this step

A team that has the knowledge, skills, and commitment to plan an effective response to the needs of homeless and vulnerable people after a disaster.

The biggest issue you might face in completing this step...

Many team members are pressed for time and resources. As you assemble the team, communicate the urgency of this issue and the commitment to using their time wisely. Be clear about the challenges associated with disasters and homelessness and the role that each team member plays in addressing them.

If you can only do one part of this step...

Hold at least one meeting where current planning documents are reviewed and the team identifies and adds missing topics.
 

 

Tools to use for this step

 
Identify Your Stakeholders (PDF)
Checklist of organizations, agencies, and individuals to include in disaster planning that addresses the needs of homeless people

Meet with Your Stakeholders (PDF)
Sample agenda for a kickoff meeting

Get to Know Your Stakeholders (PDF)
Survey to get perspectives and insights from key individuals

Planners and Providers: Bridging the Gap (PDF)
Handout that covers the two sides of the disaster planning landscape

Step 3: Collect

Gather data on your homeless population

Why you should take this step

Identify and review existing data from the Con Plan, the Continuum of Care, and qualitative accounts from local service providers, to get a clearer picture of the numbers, characteristics, and locations of homeless people in your community.

What you'll get from doing this step

Increased knowledge of your homeless populations, including location of outdoor camps, scope and size of substance abuse problems, common mental and physical challenges, and other key information that will help you craft a plan that addresses the real vulnerabilities in the community. Without this knowledge, you risk leaving people out and putting them in danger.

The biggest issue you might face in completing this step...

Quantitative data does not tell the whole story, so other reliable sources will be needed to complete the picture. Contact service providers, people experiencing homelessness, and other experts to get their qualitative accounts of the obstacles the homeless people face, their travel patterns, and problems they may face during and after a disaster.

If you can only do one part of this step...

Consult the local homelessness data expert to collect the most recent critical statistics about numbers, characteristics and locations of homeless people.
 

 

Tools to use for this step

 
Overview of Homelessness Data Sources (PDF)
Where to go for the stats you'll need about homelessness in your community

Review Community Homelessness Data (PDF)
Guidance on the data you can find in your local community to inform yourself about the scope and nature of homelessness in your community

Step 4: Identify

Gather information about your provider network

Why you should take this step

Your service provider network has skilled staff, facilities, and protocols for addressing homelessness that can support the disaster response. You will want to take advantage of these assets in your response. But a disaster can disrupt or overwhelm the organizations' operations. You need to understand the assets that are available as well as potential service gaps if a disaster hits.

What you'll get from doing this step

An inventory of the capacity, skills, and services that your service network can provide to assist homeless and other vulnerable people during and after a disaster as well as an idea of where there may be gaps in the network post disaster.

The biggest issue you might face in completing this step...

Ensure service providers' assessment of their post-disaster resources is realistic. Recommend conservative estimates, especially for large-scale disasters when service providers will need to attend to the well-being of themselves and their own families.

If you can only do one part of this step...

Create a comprehensive list of service providers, their contact information, and resources. You can use your Con Plan, CoC and 211 provider get a quick start.
 

 

Tools to use for this step

 
Collect Information From Your Network (PDF)
A form to capture important information about service providers in your community

Step 5: Improve

Expand your plan

Why you should take this step

After analyzing existing plans, creating a network, and using data to understand community needs and resources, you're ready to enhance your community's existing disaster plans to address any gaps that overlook homeless people and other vulnerable populations. You will have solutions tailored to your community, but you don't need to come up with everything on your own. Best practices gleaned from other communities are covered in Parts 2 and 3 of this Toolkit.

What you'll get from doing this step

An improved disaster plan that effectively integrates the needs of homeless people and other vulnerable people.

The biggest issue you might face in completing this step...

You do not want to create documents that sit on the shelf. To help ensure implementation, create action steps with clear lines of communication. Be specific. Include names of key contacts, titles and agencies, critical actions, responsible parties, and timelines.

If you can only do one part of this step...

Ensure the improved plan addresses the major issues that are key to disaster planning for the homeless: outreach, transportation, shelter, and services.

 

 

Tools to use for this step

 
Integrate the Needs of Homeless People in Your Disaster Plans (PDF)
How to make your plan better for addressing the needs of homeless people after a disaster

Sample Plans and Guidance Documents (PDF)
Links to useful resources on disaster planning for homelessness

Step 6: Prepare

Define roles, maintain the plan, and prepare

Why you should take this step

Do not let all your good work go to waste. Take immediate steps to prepare, including training, outreach, and public education. Clarify roles and sign agreements to codify them. Stay in touch with stakeholders. Community information will change over time, so update your plan regularly.

What you'll get from doing this step

A commitment and practical approach for the community to assist persons experiencing homelessness and other vulnerable people in a disaster.

The biggest issue you might face in completing this step...

Ongoing communication across the community's planning network can be difficult. Include disaster planning on the agenda of agency and community meetings to help keep formal and information relationships intact. Make sure you continue to listen to people who have experience being homeless.

If you can only do one part of this step...

Every year, appoint a different network member organization to be responsible for updating contact information, ensuring any Memorandums of Understanding or Memorandums of Agreement are up-to-date, and making other changes to keep the plan relevant.
 

 

Tools to use for this step

 
Execute a Memorandum of Understanding (PDF)
Guidance on the execution of a memorandum of understanding that spells out partner roles and responsibilities in a disaster response

Maintain Your Plan and Prepare Your Team (PDF)
Simple steps to make sure you remain prepared in a changing environment

Download All Tools

Download a PDF containing all tools or individual files

 

Download the Full Planning Guide With a Summary of the Steps and All Tools (PDF)

Step 1: Check - Find out what disaster planning has taken place

Find Your Local Disaster Plans (PDF)

Locate existing disaster planning documents and contact information


Assess Your Community’s Disaster Plans (PDF)

Checklist to determine if the needs of homeless populations are addressed in existing plans


More Information on Disaster Planning (PDF)

Guides and factsheets from FEMA


Standard Terms: Disaster Planning and Homelessness Services (PDF)

List of common terms used in disaster planning and response to homelessness

Step 2: Involve - Get the right people together

Identify Your Stakeholders (PDF)

Checklist of organizations, agencies, and individuals to include in disaster planning that addresses the needs of homeless people


Meet with Your Stakeholders (PDF)

Sample agenda for a kickoff meeting


Get to Know Your Stakeholders (PDF)

Survey to get perspectives and insights from key individuals


Planners and Providers: Bridging the Gap (PDF)

Handout that covers the two sides of the disaster planning landscape

Step 3: Collect - Obtain data on your homeless population

Overview of Homelessness Data Sources (PDF)

Where to go for the stats you’ll need about homelessness in your community


Review Data about Homelessness in Your Community (PDF)

Guidance on the data you can find in your local community to inform yourself about the scope and nature  of homelessness in your community

Step 4: Identify - Collect information about your provider network

Collect Information From - Your Provider Network (PDF)

A form to capture important information about service providers in your community

Step 5: Improve - Expand your plan

Integrate the Needs of Homeless People in Your Disaster Plans (PDF)

How to make your plan better for addressing the needs of homeless people after a disaster


Resources: Sample Plans and Guidance Documents (PDF)

Links to useful resources on disaster planning for homelessness

Step 6: Prepare - Define roles, maintain plan and prepare

Execute a Memorandum of Understanding (PDF)

Guidance on the execution of a memorandum of understanding that spells out partner roles and responsibilities in a disaster response


Maintain Your Plan and Prepare Your Team (PDF)

Simple steps to make sure you remain prepared in a changing environment