Racial Disparities in the Homeless System: Moving Forward

The article originally appeared on the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ Blog.

The 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) tells us something we all should know by now: African Americans are glaringly overrepresented within the homelessness system. African Americans represent 13 percent of the general population but account for 40 percent of people experiencing homelessness and more than 50 percent of homeless families with children. Other racial groups and ethnicities are also overrepresented, but African Americans make up the largest group.

These disparate numbers have begun to spur action at the national and local levels. The Center for Social Innovation launched Supporting Partnerships for Anti-Racist Communities (SPARC) in 2016 to study and respond to racial disparities in homelessness. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has started awarding points for addressing racial disparities in the most recent Continuum of Care (CoC) funding application, and it recently released an analysis tool on race/ethnicity and homelessness.

Although there is still much that can and should be done, we are starting to see more people in the field grapple with racial disparities and homelessness.

What role can a national organization like the Alliance play?

1. Leveraging Our Conferences: Many people in the field look to the Alliance’s conferences to learn about best practices and to exchange ideas about ending homelessness. At the 2018 National Conference on Ending Homelessness, the Alliance conducted a three-part series on racial disparities and homelessness. The response was huge. Many attendees called on the Alliance to further prioritize this work, and we remain firmly committed to helping our partners create solutions to address racial disparities in the homelessness system. For the Alliance’s upcoming Solutions for Individual Homeless Adults conference, we’ve integrated racial disparities and equity into a number of the workshops, with a broader goal to give racial disparities a standard place in varied discussions about ending homelessness.

2. Convening the Experts: The series of workshops on racial disparities was also a good springboard for the Alliance to think more deeply about its contribution to developing pragmatic, actionable solutions to ending racial disparities among people experiencing homelessness. To build on the momentum from July’s conference, the Alliance formed a racial equity network to inspire more engagement about best practices, data collection, and action steps at the systems level. The intent is to create a space in which leaders in the field can exchange ideas and advise the Alliance on developing and recommending practical approaches to addressing racial disparities.

The disproportionate numbers that we see year after year should not discourage us — they should make us more committed to ending racial disparities within the homelessness system. We can move the needle on this and develop effective ways to end homelessness and racial disparities within the system. If you have participated in any of our sessions so far, you have helped lay the groundwork!

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