Homelessness and Racial Disparities

Minority groups, especially African Americans, are more likely to experience homelessness than non-minority groups. This is in large part due to historical and continued structural racism. Acknowledging the lasting impact of systemic racism on current racial disparities in homelessness is a vital first step in solving the homeless crisis.

While African Americans only represent 13 percent of the general population, they account for 39 percent of people experiencing homelessness. Other minority groups experience this same phenomenon in which they make up a larger part of the homeless community than they do the general population.

African Americans and other minority groups, such as Indigenous and Latinx people, have historically been denied rights and socioeconomic opportunities. Homelessness is a by-product of this system, and the lingering effects of racism continue to impact minority groups negatively.

For example, Redlining was a racial discrimination system within the housing market. The term originated from government homeownership programs that were created as a part of the 1930s New Deal era. These programs offered government-insured mortgages to homeowners. As these programs evolved, the government added specific regulations on what homeowners would qualify. They used color-coded maps to rank the loan worthiness of neighborhoods and cities in the United States.

Neighborhoods were ranked from “A” through “D,” “A” being least risky and “D” being most risky. The government marked “D” areas in red, a sign that these neighborhoods would likely see a decline in property value; therefore, they were not worthy of inclusion in the homeownership and lending programs. Most of the “D” areas were neighborhoods where black residents lived.

Redlining discouraged economic investment within Black and Brown neighborhoods. While this kind of systemic racism started over 50 years ago, it contributed to the current wealth gap between White households and households of color.

African Americans and other people of color often live in neighborhoods where the environment is unhealthy. More specifically, they have limited access to quality health care, quality food, and economic opportunities.

Obstructions to fulfilling fundamental needs such as barriers to proper health care create a higher risk for individuals to become homeless or precariously housed. For example, according to a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report, one in five people who experience homelessness in the United States has a behavioral health issue. Other studies have shown that African Americans have more difficulty accessing treatment.

While a lack of proper mental and physical care contributes to people of color experiencing homelessness, a criminal record is another. Having a criminal record makes it harder to find employment, making it harder to find permanent housing.

The higher chance of having a criminal record for a person of color is directly related to systemic racial biases within the United States correctional institution.

To illustrate, according to the Innocence Project, “ Black people, Latinx people, and communities of color are more likely to be stopped, searched, and suspected of a crime — even when no crime has occurred.”

This racial bias in the corrections institution often manifests in relatively higher– including wrongful- convictions, higher cases of police misconduct, and longer exoneration processes for people of color. Unfortunately, because people of color are more likely to have a criminal record, they are more likely to get pushed into homelessness.

Pushing for states and cities to enact and enforce fair housing laws, regulate evictions and limit the scope of background checks for previously incarcerated individuals or those with a criminal record are just some of the things that can help alleviate the inequality people of color receive within the housing system. Ending homelessness cannot happen without addressing racial inequity.


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