Centering Racial Equity in the Greater New Orleans CoC

Author: Shercole King and Garrick Rattler, on behalf of UNITY’s Racial Equity Task Force
Picture Credit: Press Street of New Orleans, Painted by NOCCA Students. Photographer: Shercole King

“I knew then, and I know now, when it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it.” — Claudette Colvin

As we commemorate Juneteenth or “Freedom Day” we are reminded of the resilience of Black people and the continued struggle for equity and justice in our country. Freedom Day is a day when we reflect on the Emancipation Proclamation and the winds of change that finally made its way to Texas, legally freeing the enslaved among all the Confederate states from their bondage. Progress has been a part of our history, but we know we still have a lot of work to do. Claudette Colvin’s quote reminds us of not only how hard the fight HAS been, but also how hard the fight will continue to be. We are up to the challenge and are working to center racial equity throughout our Continuum of Care (CoC) and bring about meaningful change.

Racial equity and justice has been the cornerstone of our work as the CoC in New Orleans for quite some time. The Greater New Orleans region CoC comprises two parishes representing 800k residents: Orleans Parish has a population that consists of 60% African American residents, 31% White residents, and less than 10% representation for Hispanic and Asian residents, while Jefferson Parish – a suburban residential area right outside of New Orleans – represents a population of 53% White residents, 28%, Black residents, 15% Hispanic residents, and 4% Asian residents. Our overall homelessness population for the Greater New Orleans area matches the statistics for the city, but we still want to make sure our services are carried out in an equitable way.

Our approach to centering racial equity has four key steps: creating a Racial Equity Task Force, having a planning process in place, training, and implementation. We found that aligning these activities have helped cultivate racial equity within our system.

Creating a Task Force

At the onset, we decided the first step was to create a Racial Equity Task Force. It was important to develop a team of individuals representing the CoC in different capacities who represent different races, ethnicities, gender, and ages. We wanted to create a safe space environment for individuals doing the work in our community to come together and begin envisioning and developing actions on how we can create equitable processes for the homeless system in the Greater New Orleans area. Others invited to the task force included representation from emergency shelters, mental health, HIV/AIDS, Coordinated Entry, family, youth, housing advocates and other programming championing the end of homelessness.

Planning

Once formed, the task force developed a list of goals and action plans that included outreach expansions, equity education, and so on. Our main priority was/is to develop equitable processes that are inclusive of client needs as well as resources to assist case managers in this work. We have also started to look more extensively at our data as well as implement new assessment questions to have a better understanding of people experiencing homelessness in our community, as well as coordinated entry and other processes. These new questions included reasons for homelessness, family structures, and zip codes.

One of the main goals that we accomplished was to conduct additional research to understand the scope and needs of different races or ethnicities experiencing homelessness. This resulted in The Equity Task Force developing new assessment questions to further investigate our clients’ experiences within homeless services that included reasons for homelessness, family structures, and zip codes. This information was instrumental in giving us a better understanding of our homeless population and how we can better serve them. This new data not only allowed us to review our data but compare it to public data in our area. It’s been helpful to understand our community and homelessness fit into the fabric of the Greater New Orleans area.

Some of the most interesting findings from our additional assessment questions were associated with a client’s reason for homelessness:10% of Black clients chose a COVID-19 related reason for their homelessness, as opposed to 5% of White clients choosing this option. Another interesting dynamic we found was that 25% of Black clients chose family conflict as their reason for homelessness and 27% of American Indian clients did the same; 15% of White clients selected that choice. The committee is further studying these results to see what family conflict looks like in our community and adding new responses to dissect the issues.

Training

We started to provide CoC-wide racial equity trainings with outside experts. Our trainings have proved to not only assist us in recognizing potential conscious or unconscious biases but also how to process them and focus on equity. These trainings have included robust discussions about racism, power, stereotypes, and more. We will continue to offer opportunities for training and materials to advance equitable outcomes in our CoC.

Implementation

Implementation brings everything together. We are working to make the necessary adjustments to service provision as we continue to learn more about our system and the people experiencing it. We are currently working with C4 Innovations, who is conducting a racial equity study on our homeless services that encompasses all factors of the system. Stay tuned!

We, in New Orleans, are dedicated to understanding our community, learning from our community, and building an equitable system that provides resources to aid in ending homelessness for everyone.

Picture Credit: Press Street of New Orleans, Painted by NOCCA Students. Photographer: Shercole King