These Leaders are Working to Achieve Racial Equity and End Homelessness

February 13, 2020

A disproportionate number of African Americans and people of color experience or are at-risk of experiencing homelessness. An important part of our work is to address racial inequities within the homelessness response system and incorporate anti-racist policies and interventions. This Black History Month, we invited four leaders who are making an impact on racial equity across this field to share their vision of the work. I will be talking to many more leaders throughout the year as part of a new podcast series we will be launching next month.

Brittney Washington, Racial Equity and Inclusion Manager, Miriam’s Kitchen

At Miriam’s Kitchen, we made a shift to address inequity beyond our internal structure, to share power and to partner with our clients beyond service delivery.

In working towards racial equity, I apply principles of organizing to organizational transformation: Find your people who are going to partner and ally with you around the ways racism is showing up and develop a strategy. Leadership must be engaged around removing this veil of cultural blindness so that you can do your work from a place of advancing equity.

In your own organizations, have regular meetings with change makers and celebrate small wins—like increasing diversity, expanding where you post hiring ads, and encouraging LGBTQIA and people of color to apply—as well as larger wins like retaining employees of color and building a place where all folks can thrive.

Racism is a major factor in homelessness and people of color do not thrive across our white-dominant institutions. That culture can wear on our bodies and separate us, and leadership is often unaware of this harm. That makes me feel more emboldened to speak up for material changes for people of color and the staff.

So stay grounded in the fact that there is a long history of successful changes to these systems—they were created and they can be dismantled. Find things that will help keep you faithful. Allow yourself to grieve, rest, and celebrate, as needed.

Twiggy Pucci Garcon, Senior Program Director, True Colors United

Good leadership in this space looks like actually listening to the creative solutions and ideas around youth and responding according to what is or isn’t working; going beyond tokenizing folks to tell stories; paying people better for their shared expertise; and having black and brown folks with lived experience in leadership.

If we center the most highly impacted, that will make the system more equitable for all of us. In the organization where I work now, we were always queer and trans staff, but I was the first black or brown person back in 2014. Now a half of the staff is black and brown, and 1/3 have lived experience. We are now the most diverse in staff and leadership as far as sexual identity, race, and lived experience, in our field.

It is important to note the ways in which we are changing and it’s important to share them! Both the wins and lessons learned are important to share with the broader community.

There must be a constant interrogation of self as well as questioning where the organization is on this journey. That means consistent conversations and constantly learning and reassessing how white dominance shows up in the organization and the movement. Where are pivot points? Keep pushing to get buy-in from leaders.

Jimiyu Evans, Co-Chief Executive Officer, Project Community Connections, Inc.

About 95% of the population we provide services to is African American, so we place focus on the intersections of race and homelessness. We took a closer look at the barriers that were standing in the way of people experiencing homelessness and a lot of that work has been data driven. We look at that information to measure how we as an organization can implement different practices to make for more equitable changes in that system.

Where we need to focus our attention is the youth—young people have reinvigorated my passion for this work. I am the vice president of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, and work around education plays a large role in my thoughts for creating social justice and equity, especially among African Americans. To eradicate poverty and homelessness, young people need an educational platform from which to thrive.

Everyone has potential to create change, look to embrace that and use your platform to help others. Join communities in the work to address inequity. It is important to understand your impact and ability to create change with community.

Melvia Richards, Housing Manager, DeKalb County Community Development Department

DeKalb County is 53% African American, we have the second largest refugee resettlement area in the country and the largest immigrant population in Georgia. We understand cultural differences and the impact of language and communication, which helps with accessibility and addressing cultural barriers that might stand in the way of service. We are able to address these issues around cultural competencies because our leadership and case managers directly reflect and therefore are better positioned to connect and serve the population.

Constant education and training is so important for moving forward in this work. We offer symposiums and regular opportunities for case managers, providers, community partners, and leadership—including ourselves—to learn new information and understand issues to bring back to their teams to help combat racial inequities.

Collaboratively we work alongside providers, churches, communities, and different systems, to look at the alternative ways to have an impact on homelessness at it’s source. We work to address inequity by looking at affordable housing and cost-burdened homes for instance, while also looking at family and generational situations to make differences there. But we can’t only have great ideas and dialogue  around achieving racial equity, there must also be financial backing to bring it to life.

I want to thank these leaders for sharing their perspectives with me, and I look forward to many more conversations in the months ahead. If you would like to share the work your community is doing around racial equity, please email me .

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