How Climate Change Continues to Impact Homelessness
Everything is bigger in Texas… and that, unfortunately, still applies to the climate change in our state. In the past year, Texans have experienced severe thunderstorms (including heavy rainfall and tornadoes) and wildfires. As a result of these increasingly frequent natural disasters, many more people have lost their homes.
Last month’s tornadoes destroyed multiple houses across north and central Texas. Around this same time, four different wildfires broke out in central west Texas, particularly in Eastland county. Driven by strong winds, low humidity, and dry ground conditions, these wildfires damaged more than 80 homes in the small town of Carbon.
But these extreme natural disasters are not new to Texans.
In 2017, Hurricane Harvey flooded more than 150,000 homes in southeast Texas. Two years later, Tropical Storm Imelda flooded at least 8,000 homes across several counties, including Jefferson, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery, and more.
The intensity of Hurricane Harvey was not a shock to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A year before Hurricane Harvey, the department released a climate change report that included the following warning: “Rainstorms are becoming more intense, and floods are becoming more severe.”
Six years after this report, it’s clear that the world’s climate is shifting dramatically. And while climatologists expect Texas to experience more severe tropical storms and hurricanes, they also expect a surge in hot summer days.
Led by the Texas State Climatologist, a 2021 report asserts that climate change has made the Texas heat worse. The number of days at or above 100°F will likely double by 2036– at about 21 days per year. And this doesn’t bode well for many regions in Texas. This rise in heat will only increase the likelihood of intense droughts and exacerbate the risk of wildfires.
It’s important that we take these climate change warnings seriously. With each instance of extreme weather, more and more Texans become at risk of homelessness, especially when their homes haven’t fully recovered from a previous weather disaster.
In some cases, it only takes ONE intense natural disaster for someone to become displaced and experience literal homelessness. This is especially true for Texans with homes that are old and in a deteriorating condition. In Houston, old homes, built before the federal and local anti-flooding regulations set in the 1980s, were the most damaged by Hurricane Harvey… And even when people choose (are forced) to stay, they might not have the financial resources to fix their houses. Five years later, Black and brown people are still living in homes damaged by Hurricane Harvey. The caving floors and ceilings and moldy walls only worsen with time– providing little to no protection against future rounds of extreme weather.
In the summer, Texans experiencing literal homelessness are at high risk for heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat strokes– all of which can turn fatal.
Although the increase in high temperatures affects unsheltered folks the most, housed people may also be affected depending on the state of their homes. Homes require insulation, sealing, and– especially for old homes without HVAC systems– proper electrical wiring to handle multiple A/C units. So when homes haven’t been maintained, because of a lack of resources and/or repeated natural disasters, even housed neighbors may be at risk of overheating with the rising temperatures.
With a future of intense and extreme weather, we must embrace the idea that housing justice means all people having stable, high-quality, safe, and affordable housing. But can housing justice, which includes ending homelessness and housing instability, be achieved when climate change continues to be unaddressed?
Climate change is real, and it’s happening now. Its disastrous effects on Texans are clear and pervasive. For that reason, Texas needs to shift gears. We need to tackle climate change by embracing a comprehensive action plan that includes moving away from fossil fuels.
The vast majority of scientists agree that our use of fossil fuels is the biggest contributing factor to the global rise in greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, we need to rapidly and dramatically reduce these emissions to stall the rise of global warming. And this is possible. Since 1990, the greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. have generally trended downward. Texas can and should continue to tap into renewable sources of energy, like wind and solar.
Choosing to not act only invites the increase in the displacement of Texans and the deterioration of their health and safety. This is why supporting housing justice absolutely means addressing the climate change crisis. Our advocacy for people at-risk of or experiencing homelessness must include an environmental justice lens.
Below are two Texas government agencies that you should keep an eye on because they make important decisions that impact our environment:
- Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) – the state environmental agency that is responsible for ensuring compliance with the federal environmental standards set by the U.S. EPA.
- Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) – the state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry, the hazardous liquid pipeline industry, natural gas utilities, pipeline safety, and more.
To get started on your advocacy efforts, check out these environmental justice groups in Texas:
- Environment Texas – a statewide organization dedicated to protecting Texans’ air, water and open space by investigating problems, crafting solutions, and educating the public on how to have their voices heard.
- Sunrise Movement – a national youth-led organization with local chapters in Texas that advocates political action on climate change.
- T.E.J.A.S. – a Houston-based organization that promotes environmental protection through education, policy development, community awareness, and organizing across the state.
- Texas Campaign for the Environment – a grassroots advocacy organization that works on health and environmental issues in the state.
- The Climate Project – a national organization with local chapters in Texas that dedicates itself to climate change education and advocacy.