Over the past several years, there have been countless events that have publicly exposed how racial disparities span across every segment of life. Some of the most prominent examples included Hurricane Katrina, and the ongoing scourge of police killings, but the list goes on and on. COVID-19, and its disproportionate impact on communities of color, is yet another example.
Of course, those of us working to end homelessness bear witness to these disparities each day.
As many people know by now, most minority groups, especially African Americans and Indigenous people, experience homelessness at higher rates than Whites – largely due to long-standing historical and structural racism. As a field, we must be committed to addressing racial equity and make sure we are not contributing to disparate outcomes by race or ethnicity in our systems or programs.
What are plausible things the homelessness field can and should do? To help answer this question, the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ Center for Learning is releasing a Racial Equity Learning Series. This three-part series is designed to help system and program leaders and service providers center racial equity in their work, with the ultimate goal of transforming policy, procedures, and practices to better serve Black and Brown groups disproportionately impacted by homelessness. The key takeaways from the series are:
- A deeper understanding of the connection between structural racism and racial disparities among homeless populations
- A basic understanding of how to collect and comprehend community data, one of the first steps in making progress toward reducing racial disparities
- Guidance on developing and implementing actionable procedures for addressing racial disparities, including ensuring that your community’s systems do not replicate existing harmful structures
- Qualitative analysis and elevating people with lived expertise in decision processes are important actions, whether disparities are found in quantitative data or not
Outside systems and structural factors certainly play a role in the disproportionality we see in homelessness among minority groups. However, the homelessness system, itself, is not exempt from racism, implicit bias, and disparities. Thus, homelessness programs and systems have a direct responsibility to ensure that they are not adding to the problem.
The Racial Equity Learning Series is a great tool to help communities either get started or gain additional knowledge about racial equity work in the field. If we fail to address racism head-on, we will always land in the same place and communities of color will continue to bear the brunt of devastating crises, such as homelessness.