Emerging Strategies for Addressing Racial Inequities in Our Efforts to End Homelessness

October 31, 2017

At USICH, we’ve been deepening our conversations with many of you about the concrete strategies we need to leverage to address racial inequities in our efforts to prevent and end homelessness. After digging in with leaders at our August convening and with partners at the Center for Social Innovation (C4SI), I wanted to share some of the ideas that have begun to surface.

Marc Dones and Jeff Olivet of C4SI made the case in our blog last month, “Our national conversation about homelessness has been missing a critical piece: an honest, open conversation about the racial dimensions of homelessness. People of color—specifically Blacks and Native Americans—are dramatically more likely than White Americans to experience homelessness.”

Communities are starting to roll up their sleeves and get to work on turning the tide on these statistics—some with the help of C4SI, and others prompted by national conversations or by local partners and leaders. At USICH’s Thought Leadership Convening on Ending Family Homelessness, held in New Orleans in August, we worked with local and federal partners to brainstorm a path for communities to build out this work. Here’s what we came up with:

Build a shared understanding through data analysis and stakeholder engagement…

  • Use data to understand the scope of disparities and overrepresentation based on race and ethnicity in our local homelessness service systems.
  • Map the local stakeholders who have a role in turning the tide on these statistics, including local leaders, culturally-specific organizations, religious and faith-based groups, local social service agencies, law enforcement, educators, landlords, housing providers, grantees, and most importantly, people of color with lived experiences of homelessness.
  • Engage in—sometimes difficult—conversations with partners to build a shared understanding of the dynamics that perpetuate these statistics locally and commit to continuing these conversations.

Make the improvements and investments needed to drive progress…

  • Develop and test strategies to reverse the dynamics identified, use work plans targeted at specific goals .
  • Assess and regularly revisit data indicators that link to equitable outcomes, particularly outcomes related to rates of permanent housing placement and connections to services.
  • Develop and implement plans to diversify staff and organizations at all levels and offer professional development opportunities within your organization and with your grantees’ organizations.

Track and share progress through performance measurement and accountability systems…

  • Use data to track progress toward your goals and revisit discussions regularly.
  • Share successful strategies and insights with community and national partners, as well as other systems ; commit to supporting others in undertaking the work to rectify racial inequities.

Every element of this work can be underpinned by data; communities and national partners have begun exploring and implementing strategies to leverage a variety of data points and sources. In the description and infographic below, we’ve outlined approaches and mechanisms for not only assessing the scope of racial and ethnic disparities locally, but also the action steps to take to measure and drive progress toward shrinking those disparities.

Here are the strategies we’ve heard about so far. Communities are looking to…

  • Use demographic data from the most recent census to map the racial profile of their community and then compare it to HMIS data to understand who is experiencing homelessness at disproportionate rates in their community
  • Report on staff and board diversity compared to population experiencing homelessness and develop diversification goals
  • Develop data-driven goals for including people of color with lived experience of homelessness into planning efforts
  • Analyze data to determine if equitable permanent housing outcomes are being achieved and identify if there are ethnic or racial groups who are less likely to be exiting to permanent housing
  • Interrogate person-centered data to build out an understanding of service utilization patterns and the connection between those patterns and housing placements and/or other outcomes; use these data points to inform planning and resource allocation
  • Map the points of entry and precipitating causes of homelessness and assess whether there are significant differences among people of color
  • Geographically map where people experiencing homelessness live, work, or spend their time to ensure that place-based investments in outreach, services, and housing opportunities are equitably reaching people of color
  • Identify systemwide goals to drive progress toward equity and identify data points to measure progress toward those goals
  • Regularly review data, assess impact, and refine and strengthen strategies and activities

As we expand this work over the next year, we’re counting on you to share your insights and progress with us so we can learn together.

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