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More Racism, More Homelessness?

By | Sep 6, 2017
These images were taken on the Momenta Project Los Angeles 2016 workshop in Los Angeles, California. Photo © Jim D'Aquilia/Momenta Workshops 2016.

Jim D’Aquilia/Momenta Workshops 2016.

Is homelessness a product of racism in this country?

For those of us who have been working on the front lines of homelessness for years, we define root causes of homelessness in phrases like, “lack of affordable housing,” “a lack of resources,” “a broken social safety net.”

I rarely, if ever, hear people define homelessness as a result of racial bias.

So why is there a disproportionate rate of homelessness among people of color in comparison to the overall demographics in this country? For example, African Americans were 13.3% of the American population in 2016, yet were 39.1% of the homeless population. The Hispanic population was 17.8% of the overall population, but 22.1% of the homeless population.

Perhaps such ratios are by accident? I think not.

I realize not everything should be viewed in a Charlottesville lens where racism and hatred colors our perspective. But even before Charlottesville, and before this current President, race was always an issue among our homeless population.

People among us who have less political influence in this country seem to fall through the cracks of our social safety net at a higher rate. In other words, people of color have a greater chance of being homeless than those who are part of the majority.

Does race come to play when the average person stereotypes someone who is homeless? For example, some people blame individuals who are homeless for being homeless. “They are lazy, drug addicts, crazy people who choose to stay on the streets,” they say.

This “blame the victim” mentality is more prevalent than we, as a society, want to think—it even affects how public policy is created. Currently, those in the federal government want to reduce housing opportunities and services for people who are homeless.

Why would our political leaders want to deny Americans a right to be housed? They say that “dependency on HUD programs could become ‘a way of life’ for recipients.” As if making sure every American is safely housed is a bad way of life. As if housing people would cost more money, when in actuality, it saves taxpayer dollars and helps people reintegrate into and meaningfully participate in our communities, thereby contributing to our economy.

Perhaps couched in this perspective is the majority’s bias against the minority. Maybe what they are really saying is that people who are homeless—of which a disproportionate amount are people of color—do not deserve to be housed. So as a result, this country only provides a fraction of the resources needed to end homelessness in this nation.

Perhaps they are saying that people who are homeless should simply pull themselves up with their bootstraps, work hard, stay off of drugs, and get a job. Perhaps they are saying that if only “homeless people” were like them (the better race?)—employed, sober, and housed—they would not be homeless anymore.

Isn’t bias and superiority the prime definition of racism?

It seems to me that if we thought all homeless lives mattered, we would house all lives who are homeless.

(And don’t even get me started on a debate of why most leaders of homeless agencies are not people of color.)