How to Start Addressing Racial Disparities in Your Community

July 9, 2018

USICH has been using our newsletter over the last year to lift up a range of perspectives and promising practices from the field on how to better understand and address the overrepresentation of people of color among those experiencing homelessness.

Racial disparities in experiences of homelessness are clear and stark, driven by a complex array of inequities within our systems and social dynamics—biases and prejudices, overt discrimination, systemic and institutional racism, and many other related and intersectional forces—that impact our responses to homelessness and collectively help cause and create homelessness in our country. As we continue to lift up local and national partners’ work in this space, we’re also working closely with federal and national partners to develop comprehensive guidance for communities on how to undertake this work.

At the same time, our federal partners are also taking action: in this year’s Continuum of Care competition HUD will be looking at CoCs’ efforts to assess and address racial disparities; COCs will be scored on whether they have assessed their data on equity in service provision and outcomes (whether people of different races or ethnicities are more or less likely to receive assistance or achieve positive outcomes), and if racial disparities are present, that steps have been or will be taken to address those disparities. Homelessness services systems and Continuums of Care can’t, by themselves, solve all of the dynamics and forces that create the disparities we see, and implementing solutions will require significant community-wide shifts that will take time and lasting commitment.

Local leaders and organizations can, however, take steps now to: determine whether local homelessness programs are perpetuating disparities and inequity, and take steps to address those dynamics; initiate work with other partners and systems to tackle these issues more comprehensively; and set a longer-term vision for training staff on understanding equity and applying equity-based lenses to our shared work to end homelessness. Analyzing local HMIS, PIT, and community-wide census data to assess race- and ethnicity-based overrepresentation among people experiencing homelessness in your communities will help local leadership reconsider inequitable and ineffective policies and will support your CoC’s efforts to more effectively achieve its system-wide goal to end homelessness for all.

As your CoC takes this work on, we encourage you to consider the following strategies and actions:

  • Assess the scope of racial disparities in experiences of homelessness in your community by comparing HMIS data to local population and census data
  • Assess whether your programs and systems are providing connections to services and housing at equitable rates and achieving equitable outcomes for clients across races and ethnicities.
  • Based on these data findings, work with staff and individuals with lived experience to gauge whether any identified racial disparities are being or perpetuated by processes or barriers within your homeless services system.
  • Share your findings with leaders, partners, providers and stakeholders within your system to build a shared understanding of the scope and drivers of racial disparities among people experiencing homelessness in your community.

As we move forward together to address racial disparities more intentionally and comprehensively, we’ll need to work together to answer many important questions, including questions about data and policies, such as:

  • Data. What current data points are most instructive? What other questions should we all be asking of our data to better understand access, service provision, and outcomes? Are we achieving equitable outcomes? What does the data tell us about the who is entering our system?  What training do we need to better understand these dynamics, analyze data accordingly and make recommendations?
  • Policies. Are people experiencing different results due to how policies are enforced or enacted? Do our policies address and meet the needs of people of color? How does implicit bias affect individuals’ outcomes? How can we address these dynamics?

We are working to provide more comprehensive guidance on addressing racial disparities in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, here are some recent resources that can help you and your community start to understand and address these issues more purposefully now:

Supporting Partnerships for Anti-Racist Communities: Phase One Study Findings

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

Using GIS Mapping to Help Address Disparities in Homelessness Assistance

Responding to Racial Inequities Within our Systems of Care

Initiative Sparks Change in Local Organizations’ Approach to Racial Equity in Work to End Homelessness

Racial Equity: An Essential Component of Our Nation’s Homelessness Response

Systems Change: Addressing Racial Disparity by Putting Theory into Practice

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