To say the least, the past couple of years have been extremely trying due to the pandemic, but each of these years we’ve aggressively striven to help meet the elevated needs of people experiencing homelessness. It also goes without saying that we will continue to do the same for 2022.
Let’s be clear, though, issues like homelessness and racism have always been crises; COVID has only compounded the problems. For one, people experiencing homelessness are uniquely at severe risk for contracting COVID-19, given the prevalence of risk factors in homeless populations. If that wasn’t enough, federal data also shows that unsheltered individuals experiencing homelessness grew by seven percent in a point in time in 2020, with some of the most vulnerable people with disabilities leading the increase. Given that this data was collected in January right before the onset of COVID-19, we know the homelessness system was overburdened already – and the pandemic brought additional challenges. Also, most minority groups continue to be overrepresented in the homelessness system (not to mention glaring health disparities exposed by COVID), due to historical and structural racism, with Indigenous people and African Americans experiencing some of the highest rates each year.
In moving forward, the Alliance will continue to work with Continuums of Care (CoCs) and service providers to think strategically about the new opportunities and funds stemming from pandemic-related bills to house as many vulnerable people experiencing homelessness as possible. We will also continue to advocate for more resources with the same goal in mind.
Racial equity will continue to be at the forefront of our work, as it has been for some time now. We know that housing resources can make a huge impact on homelessness, but we also know that we will miss the mark and continue to perpetuate racial disparities within our systems if we are not intentional about equity. Our work to connect racial equity to ending homelessness will live through our partnerships, advocacy, tools, blogs, and webinars: in essence, throughout all the work that we do.
What will be relatively new for the Alliance in 2022 is a deeper commitment to our internal racial equity work. We are turning the lens on ourselves and, in reflection, asking questions: what does an anti-racist organization look like? How does it function? What are transformative steps we can take to get us there? How well can we help lead on racial equity externally while doing our own learning internally? While this is a work in progress, our ultimate goal is to build an organization where the staff has the space and tools to address racism and the capacity to integrate racial equity into the overall work of the organization. This is, of course, easier said than done. Meaningful investment in this work is the key.
There is much to learn in this new role, but truly becoming an organization that is anti-racist in its practices, with the ability to articulate and act on the interconnection between racism and homelessness, is well worth any vulnerabilities that might come with this process. I look forward to sharing more with the field as we move along in our journey. We have a lot of work to do in 2022. I am glad we are starting off in the right direction.