How Black History Can Shape Homelessness Efforts

Black people have often been at the forefront of movements for social change across the United States, both past and present, from protesting racial segregation to organizing against police brutality. The repercussions of racism have yielded disparate outcomes for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities across the socioeconomic gamut, including homelessness.

During Black History Month, the Alliance wanted to highlight the voices of Black leaders in the movement to end homelessness. Here’s why they say we should continue the commitment to racial equity and justice in the collective work to address this crisis:

Kahlib Barton – True Colors United

Homelessness is a cultural issue that requires a cultural response. There is no way to address homelessness without including people who have the unique experiences faced by the most impacted individuals in and out of homelessness response systems. Unfortunately, in the majority of cases the factor of race has a visceral impact on these unique experiences. Now more than ever, we have to be in a consistent state of analyzing the issue of race in its relation to housing injustice. As we learn more about how to adequately address housing injustice we have to shift policies, practice, and power to be representative of and responsive to the individuals we are working diligently to reach.

Dimitri Groce – Building Changes

Black struggle and innovation have always gone hand in hand in our country. Black leaders and community members had to innovate in order to survive in a system that excluded us and denied our humanity. That said, millions of people rely on institutions today like our national emergency response system and universal entitlement programs like SNAP. These programs emerged from the radical and strategic vision of movements like the Freedmen’s Bureau, Black Panther Free Breakfast Program, and philosophies like Universal Basic Income.

Once these innovations became universally available, they too were encoded with anti-Black racism that made them inaccessible to these very same Black communities.

We must be careful about recreating this dynamic in our work to end homelessness in our post-pandemic world today. As we embark on efforts to promote transformative ideas like the importance of lived expertise, we must be sure to center the transformative foundations of self-determination, the importance of the collective, an access to power that our Black ancestors embedded in their work. That means supporting our Black leaders—even when things don’t go right—and resisting the easy temptation of scarcity politics.

These foundations don’t only underpin Black opportunity or “Freedom Dreams” of the ancestors I’m proud to claim—they are the gift given to our entire country that reflect the brilliant compassion we Black people feel proud to share in spite of the struggle and darkness we continue to resist.

Regina Cannon – Arc 4 Justice

“We’re living in unprecedented times” – a phrase we’ve heard more in the last seven years than ever before. But are we really? Perhaps precarious times, but not unprecedented. Not when it comes to the backlash and the resistance to diversity, inclusiveness and belonging. Not when it comes to rewriting history to erase the evil and harms done. Not when it comes to blaming those that have been most marginalized rather than the systems that created their challenges and the people who uphold those systems. And certainly not when it comes to the systematic dehumanization of those who assert their humanity and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

So, in these “precarious” times, it is critical that we act in “unprecedented” ways to actively resist the hate, to challenge ourselves to go beyond the usual talking points and pretty speeches and to get in the arena. Every day, each of us has the opportunity to write our own history.  When we turn the pages of your history, I hope we will see that you fought with and for those who have been denied the most basic of life needs, that you fought with and for those who were attacked and labeled inhumane.  And I hope that we will read that you fought with and for those who wanted a more just and liberated future for us all.