November HWISE-RCN Scholar of the Month: Dr. Lourdes Johanna Avelar Portillo

Lourdes Johanna Avelar is a Postdoctoral Scholar at the Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative program at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) in the department of Medicine. She recently completed a one-year fellowship at UC San Diego’s School of Public Health as a GloCal Health scholar, a program sponsored by the NIH-Fogarty International Center. Using mixed methods, Johanna explored the intersection of drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene (WaSH) insecurity and generalized anxiety disorder experienced by people who inject drugs living in different housing conditions along the Tijuana-San Diego border region. While at UCSD, Johanna also conducted research in Ecuador alongside her primary mentor Dr. Georgia Kayser to explore children’s exposure to neonicotinoids in drinking water and irrigation systems when living near floriculture activity. Johanna earned her PhD in 2021 from the Population, Health, and Place program at the University of Southern California (USC) where she investigated the interim-level service needs (specifically WaSH service needs) of unhoused communities in Los Angeles. Johanna’s research interest includes addressing WaSH insecurity experienced by vulnerable communities through a health equity and intersectional lens.

Currently, as part of the BHHI program, Johanna wants to continue pursuing interdisciplinary research that unites the fields of geography, public health, and medicine. Specifically, she is interested in learning from the lived experiences of people who inject drugs, Latino unhoused communities, and elderly unhoused people to identify effective WaSH strategy interventions. She has extensive experience building with and working alongside communities in Los Angeles, San Diego, Tijuana, and soon: the San Francisco area. For more information on Johanna’s background and research, please visit:

Highlighted Work:


  • Avelar Portillo, Lourdes Johanna, Georgia Kayser, Charlene Ko, Angelica Vasquez, Jimena, Gonzalez, Diego Jose Avelar, Nayib Alvarenga, Meredith Franklin, & Yao-Yi Chiang. Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WaSH) Insecurity in Unhoused Communities of Los Angeles, California, USA. (Under Review)
  • Avelar Portillo, Lourdes Johanna, Charlene Ko, Angelica Vasquez, & Yao-Yi Chiang. Identifying WaSH Service Needs in Unhoused Communities from the Perspective of Service Providers in Los Angeles, CA. (In preparation for PLOS Water Journal).
  • Avelar Portillo, Lourdes Johanna, Alhelí Calderón-Villarreal, Susan Cassels, Alicia Harvey-Vera, Carlos Vera, Sheryl Munoz, Arturo Tornez, Gudelia Rangel, Steffanie A. Strathdee, & Georgia Kayser. WaSH Insecurity and Psychosocial Distress Among Unstably Housed People Who Inject Drugs in Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, USA. (In preparation for Social Sciences and Medicine).


  • Avelar Portillo, Lourdes Johanna, Lois Park, Charlene Ko, Angelica Vasquez, Meredith Franklin, & Yao-Yi Chiang. Measuring Closes Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Facilities in Unhoused Communities of Los Angeles, USA. Oral Presentation at the International Cartographic Conference, Florence, Italy, 2021.
  • Avelar Portillo, Lourdes Johanna. Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WaSH) Insecurity Among Unhoused Communities in Los Angeles, CA. Oral Presentation at UNC Water and Health Conference, Virtual, 2021.
  • Avelar Portillo, Lourdes Johanna, Robert O. Vos, Jose Jesus Rico, Yanyi Qian, Kate Vavra-Musser, & Yao-Yi Chiang. Los Angeles Homelessness and the Access to Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene. Poster Presentation at the International Cartographic Conference, Tokyo, Japan 2019.

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