How the Impoverished Are Being Affected by the Australian Bush Fires

A House Burning Down in Lake Conjola, New South Wales due to the Bushfires, Courtesy of the BBC

January 17, 2020

By: Fatima Lukman-Mohammed 

Since late December there have been bushfires plaguing Australia. The fires have negatively affected the lives and health of hundreds of animals, and little to much of the public’s knowledge, a large portion of the citizens that live there as well. The homeless population has specifically been affected, as their weak shelters are being not only damaged by the fires but utterly destroyed. This makes them extremely vulnerable to the natural disaster, and in dire need of help if they are to survive.

There are countless pictures of the citizens of Australia’s houses burning down, however not much light is being shed to the citizens who do not have homes to be burned down; the homeless. Before the fires started, the heatwaves prior to the bushfires affected the homeless people of Australia greatly. According to Jenny Smith, the chair of the Homelessness in Australia for the Council to Homeless Persons organization, “116,400 people currently experiencing homelessness every day in Australia, staying indoors isn’t always a possibility.” In Australia, there are over 8,200 citizens without houses who have to sleep wherever they can outside. This makes them much more vulnerable when the heatwaves and then the fires began, and are more susceptible to the harmful health impacts. 

Extreme heat and poor air quality are also problematic. The government in South Australia and the human services minister Michelle Lensink has stated that the homeless agencies across Adelaide would extend their opening hours of their facilities in order to aid and keep as much of the homeless off the street in this dire time of need. This would help provide shelter for the homeless who have nowhere to hide from the heatwaves and fires. In Melbourne and Victoria, the homeless are getting free access to movie theaters as well as other places where they can stay out of the heat. Jenny Smith stated, “People without safe and secure housing during extremely hot weather are most at risk of dehydration, overheating or exacerbating other health problems.” It is especially important for those without shelter to find safe havens where they can seek shelter from the heat and negative health impacts such as inhaling too much smoke. 

Even without the environmental problems in Australia, the homeless are vulnerable because they do not have one of the most basic rights; shelter. This makes them more at risk during heatwaves and fires, so they need extra support. Many organizations such as Homelessness in Australia are trying to aid to the best of their ability, such as giving the homeless privileges they would not otherwise have but the homeless are still lacking shelter. “Many low-cost housing options such as rooming houses are not able to withstand extreme heat and instead can trap the heat in, posing serious health risks to residents” stated Smith. Many homeless are forced to remain on the street due to the overcrowding of people in homeless shelters or areas set up for people to shelter from the smoke. 

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