The Ecology of Unsheltered Homelessness: Environmental and Social-Network Predictors of Well-Being among an Unsheltered Homeless Population

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jul 8;18(14):7328. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18147328.


People experiencing homelessness (PEH) face extreme weather exposure and limited social support. However, few studies have empirically assessed biophysical and social drivers of health outcomes among unsheltered PEH. Social network, health, and outdoor exposure data were collected from a convenience sample of unsheltered PEH (n = 246) in Nashville, TN, from August 2018-June 2019. Using multivariate fixed-effects linear regression models, we examined associations between biophysical and social environments and self-reported general health and emotional well-being. We found that study participants reported the lowest general health scores during winter months-Nashville's coldest season. We also found a positive association between the number of nights participants spent indoors during the previous week and general health. Participants who spent even one night indoors during the past week had 1.8-point higher general health scores than participants who spent zero nights indoors (p < 0.01). Additionally, participants who experienced a conflict with a social contact in the past 30 days had lower emotional well-being scores than participants who experienced no conflict. Finally, women had worse general health and emotional well-being than men. Ecologically framed research about health and well-being among PEH is critically needed, especially as climate change threatens to increase the danger of many homeless environments.

Keywords: climate change impacts; emotional well-being; environmental exposure; gender; general health; homelessness; social networks; unsheltered homeless populations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Ecology
  • Female
  • Homeless Persons*
  • Housing*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Self Report
  • Social Support