Air Pollution-Related Health Impacts on Individuals Experiencing Homelessness: Environmental Justice and Health Vulnerability in Salt Lake County, Utah

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Angelina DeMarco, Rebecca Hardenbrook, Jeff Rose, Daniel Mendoza

Subject: Arts & Humanities, Anthropology & Ethnography Keywords: Air pollution; environmental justice; chronic homelessness; unsheltered homelessness; marginalized populations; hidden populations

Experiences of homelessness, although widely varied, are characterized by extensive time in public spaces, often outdoors. However, there has been little empirical research about the ways in which environmental factors affect individuals experiencing homelessness (IEHs). Therefore, the purpose of this study was to use an environmental justice approach to understand how cardiopulmonary health of IEHs is affected by episodic poor air quality in Salt Lake County. It was hypothesized that people who had experienced unsheltered homelessness and those who had been experiencing homelessness for longer periods of time would report greater health difficulties from poor air quality exposure. Through a combination of in-person semi-structured interviews with IEHs (n = 138) and access to corresponding state-based service provider databases, researchers examined both overall descriptives of and relationships between types (sheltered and unsheltered) and duration (chronic and non-chronic) of homelessness. More than 61% of IEHs reported physical reactions to air pollution, 37% reported air pollution-related emotional stress, and more than 89% had sought medical attention for a condition related to air pollution. Findings indicate that while IEHs report a number of health effects related to poor air quality, there were no significant differences between individuals based on either sheltered status or duration of their experiences of homelessness. This study provides an initial empirical inquiry to understand how environmental disamenities negatively influence IEHs, as well as noting that sheltered status and duration of homelessness are less impactful than originally hypothesized.

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