Analyzing Racial Disparities in the Homelessness System: We Need to Get Moving. The NOFO Tells Us How

The Alliance applauds its federal partners at the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) for prioritizing racial equity in this year’s Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO). Continuums of Care (CoCs) are incentivized to assess their homelessness programs and systems for racial disparities in services and outcomes, to assess barriers, and to develop action plans, if inequities are found.

This is not the first time HUD has addressed racial disparities in the NOFO, but this year there’s an even greater emphasis on racial equity. This includes involving people of color disproportionately impacted by homelessness in the decision-making process of the CoC’s application, which encompasses things like deciding rating factors to review project applications and greater points.

Why is this so important?

We know from the last Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) that most minority groups continue to disproportionately experience homelessness. Structural and historical racism largely explain this occurrence: from federally backed red-lining that segregated minority groups to areas with less investment and fewer resources, to Black and Brown overcriminalization – studies have shown that Black and Brown people are more likely to be stopped by the police, detained pretrial, charged with more serious crimes, and receive stiffer penalties than Whites. 

While outside and structural factors are certainly in play, the homelessness system itself is not exempt from racism, implicit bias and disparities. Homelessness programs and systems have a significant and direct responsibility to ensure that they are not adding to the problem by having a disparate impact on people based on their race or ethnicity.

Where do we start?

HUD is giving us more guidance on this work. Now, where do we start, especially for CoCs who are just beginning to think about racial disparities in their programs or systems? 

The Alliance, in conjunction with its Racial Equity Network (REN), has identified the following set of existing tools that might be helpful as CoCs get started: 

  1. Leverage existing data: Compare and contrast demographic data on race and ethnicity from your local census data and HMIS to determine the scope of disparities within your community.
  2. Take advantage of HUD’s tools: HUD has created a CoC Analysis Tool on Race and Ethnicity. This tool allows you to examine what percentage of people in your CoC are poor, experiencing homelessness, sheltered and unsheltered, based on race and ethnicity. 
  3. Consult the Racial Equity Network Toolkit: The Racial Equity Network has created a tool which can help you measure whether the outcomes of your program or system vary depending on the race or ethnicity of a person experiencing homelessness or family.  This is a simple dashboard measuring key portions of a homeless program or system. The REN also added a section on COVID-19 to help communities prioritize racial equity and integrate this work into their COVID-19 responses.
  4. Take Action: After analyzing your system data, the Racial Equity Network has also come up with a list of suggested Action Steps for organizations to take if they have identified racial disparities. 
  5. Continue Learning: Lastly, for CoCs who would like a more in-depth understanding of the intersection of racism and homelessness, including a demonstration of the REN’s Racial Equity Tool, the Alliance’s Racial Equity Learning Series is available. Further, the Framework for an Equitable COVID-19 Homeless Response provides guidance on using federal resources in an equitable way to address the pandemic. The Framework calls for communities to apply a racial lens to all COVID-19 activities, including things such as serving people with the highest needs first (who are most likely to be people of color); involving people of color with lived experience in planning and implementation; and shaping culturally responsive approaches.

More and more communities are starting to address racial equity, and the continued focus from HUD will spur even greater efforts across the country. We can make change within our systems and end homelessness in an equitable way.  Let’s get started!