Racial Disparities in the Homelessness System: Even the NOFA is Telling Us to Act!

For the second year in a row, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has taken the important step to encourage Continuums of Care (CoCs) to address racial equity in the homelessness system. Once again, CoCs are incentivized in the 2019 Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) to assess their systems for racial disparities and, to act, if disparities are found.

This is what we know about the racial dimensions of homelessness: most minority groups in the U.S. are overrepresented in the homelessness system, with both Indigenous people and African Americans experiencing some of the highest rates.  We also know the disproportionality we see in the homelessness system is influenced by historical and structural racism; including feeder systems such as criminal justice.   This is not to say the homelessness system itself is exempt, however, from perpetuating racial inequity. In fact, the NOFA encourages us or those in the homelessness system to examine ourselves for racial disparities or to assess whether we might be contributing to them. 

Under the section, CoC Coordination and Engagement, the NOFA offers CoCs five points to analyze racial disparities in their systems.  What is particularly exciting about this year’s NOFA is that now, CoCs have more tools to help them begin this type of analysis (if they have not started already):

(1) HUD’s CoC Analysis Tool on Race and Ethnicity: This tool helps CoCs look at racial disparities across their systems.  It looks at distributions of race for all people living in poverty, people experiencing homelessness, and people experiencing unsheltered homelessness within a CoC.

(2) NAEH’s Racial Equity Network’s Toolkit: This toolkit helps CoCs analyze whether the outcomes in their systems or programs vary depending on race or ethnicity.  It looks at simple data points, such as who is in your system, who gets what (emergency shelter, transitional housing or permanent housing), and who returns.

As the country as a whole continues to grapple with racism and inequity and more CoCs become actively engaged in this work, broader discussions and more useful tools are likely to be had and developed – so stay tuned and start strategizing about what you can do to promote racial equity with the tools you have now.  CoCs might not be able to solve all of the nation’s racial problems, but they can impact their systems.  We are encouraged by HUD’s decision to award points in the NOFA for addressing racial disparities.  CoCs should take advantage of these incentives and work to end both homelessness and racial inequity.