When dangerous wildfire smoke fills the air, public health agencies issue warnings to keep people safe.

Kasdin: “The first thing we hear is for people to go inside, close their windows. And those are simply things that are not a possibility for people living on the streets.”

Lucy Kasdin directs Alameda County Health Care for the Homeless in California’s Bay Area.

She says unhoused people have a hard time escaping the smoke.

They’re also more likely to suffer from health conditions — such as asthma and COPD — that increase the danger of breathing smoky air.

And without easy access to internet and TV, they often lack up-to-date information about air quality conditions.

Kasdin: “So the first thing that’s important in terms of a response has to be information.”

When wildfire smoke poses a risk, Kasdin’s organization sends out teams to inform unhoused people about the health risks, distribute N95 masks, and provide information about indoor locations where they can take refuge.

And as climate change brings more extreme fires and other disasters, she says it will be vital for cities to understand the particular dangers that unhoused people face — and to plan for how to protect them.

Reporting Credit: Sarah Kennedy / ChavoBart Digital Media