Homelessness cannot be ended without addressing racial inequity.
Racism and homelessness are inextricably linked. People of color, particularly Black and Native Americans, are disproportionately impacted at virtually every phase of the experience. Community Solutions is guided by the understanding that homelessness cannot be ended without addressing racial inequity. We want to share the data that underpins this belief and also be transparent about how we’re learning our way into finding solutions as an organization and as the Built for Zero movement, made up of over 80 U.S. communities working to measurably and equitably end homelessness.
We’re grateful to be working alongside the organizations that have been leading the way in drawing attention to this inequity and working to solve it, especially Funders Together to End Homelessness, A Way Home America, C4 Innovations, and JO Consulting.
RACISM AND HOMELESSNESS
Homelessness is an immediate, life-threatening crisis for the people experiencing it, but not all racial and ethnic groups are impacted equally. In the U.S., Native and Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by homelessness.
The overrepresentation of Black and Native Americans in the homeless population is no accident: it is the result of historic and ongoing racism, from slavery and violent land theft to housing discrimination that persists today.
Research shows that, because of these massive burdens, people of color — particularly Black and Native Americans — are more likely to experience poverty and other conditions that place people at risk of homelessness, ranging from interactions with the child welfare and criminal legal systems to lack of access to housing, employment, and health care. They are also more likely to experience bias at the hands of the people and systems. Altogether, the interactions of these various factors contribute to high rates of homelessness and inequitable outcomes for these populations.
But economic and social factors don’t tell the whole story — the data shows that poverty alone does not account for the disproportionate representation of Black Americans experiencing homelessness, for example.
CREATING RACIALLY EQUITABLE HOMELESS RESPONSE SYSTEMS
While it is understood that interaction with domains like the criminal legal or child welfare systems are drivers into homelessness, a person’s ability to exit homelessness is also influenced by the local homeless response system. Any system that is not set up to identify and respond to disparities is doomed to reproduce — or even deepen — them.
We heard from communities in the Built for Zero movement that they wanted to address racial disparities in their homeless systems. In response, we worked with local homeless services leaders and people who experienced homelessness to develop a framework for understanding and improving the racial equity of a community’s homeless response system.
Our team believes this framework can empower communities working to end homelessness to ensure their systems aren’t leaving anyone behind. This framework is just one tool in the movement toward racial equity, driven by a growing coalition of organizations within the homeless sector.
The framework seeks to equip communities with signals of progress across four critical areas:
- equitable system decision-making power
- lived experience
- quality data
- system outcomes