Find Racial Disparities In Your Data? Here Are Some Things You Can Do About It

Once again, HUD’s most recent Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) illustrates something the homeless field should all know by now: year after year, African Americans continue to be disproportionately impacted by homelessness.

Just like in 2018, the 2019 AHAR reports that African Americans represent 40 percent of people experiencing homelessness, while only representing 13 percent of the general population.  Moreover, African Americans still represent more than half of the families with children experiencing homelessness.  Other racial groups and ethnicities are also overrepresented, but African Americans make up the largest group by far.

The disproportionality seen in homelessness is largely influenced by historical and structural racism, including feeder systems like criminal justice.  This is not to suggest, however, that the homelessness system itself is exempt from perpetuating racial disparities: biases, unequal outcomes and the like occur in every sector.The field should assess its systems and programs on a regular basis to ensure outcomes are not determined by race and ethnicity. 

To help Continuums of Care (CoCs) begin to address racial disparities, the Alliance’s Racial Equity Network (REN) developed the racial equity toolkit – a simple data tool that analyzes who is in a system, who gets what in terms of housing and who returns to homelessness. But there is a need to go one step further.

Recognizing that some systems might find racial/ethnic disparities in their data, the REN has now released suggested Action Steps to help CoCs think about strategies to address inequitable outcomes.  The action steps also include important qualitative factors, such as engagement with people being served in the system, to get a better picture of how well a system is performing.  These are starting points, but they must also be a priority if we are truly committed to solving homelessness.

Once disparities are identified, organizations can – and should – take action to reduce disparities and promote equity in their systems. The action steps and the toolkit can function independently of one another, but are best used together. Consult the Alliance’s resources on how to best reduce racial disparities in homelessness systems: