African Americans are still disproportionately more likely to experience homelessness than people of other races, a government report finds.
Of the approximately 568,000 people in the US experiencing homelessness on a single night last year, about 40% of them were African Americans, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress.
That’s despite the fact that African Americans make up only 13 percent of the total US population.
The numbers are even more stark when it came to families without a home. African Americans made up 52% — more than half — of people in families experiencing homelessness, the report said.
By comparison, 48% of people experiencing homelessness last year were white, though white people make up 77% of the US population. People who identified as Hispanic or Latino, who the report notes can be of any race, made up about 22% of the homeless population but just 18% of the overall population.
“This report demonstrates continued progress towards ending homelessness, but also a need to recalibrate policy to make future efforts more effective and aligned with the unique needs of different communities,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said in the report.
The report, released earlier this month, is the only nationwide survey of homeless people.
HUD’s data reflects an estimate of the number of people experiencing homelessness on a single night, which the department counts during the last 10 days of January each year. The numbers include people in emergency shelters or transitional housing programs, as well as people staying on the street, in abandoned buildings or other unsheltered locations.
Racial disparities stem from systemic injustice
The stark racial disparities that affect African Americans are a result of long-standing systemic injustice and discrimination that stems from practices like slavery and segregation, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a nonprofit that focuses on preventing and ending homelessness.
Those systems have created disparities in a wide array of areas, which in turn can contribute to more African Americans experiencing homelessness.
African Americans are 2.5 times more likely to experience poverty than white Americans, the Economic Policy Institute finds. They are more likely to live in places with limited economic opportunities and fewer resources, and to experience housing discrimination, incarceration and a lack of access to health care.
“Any effort to end homelessness in the United States must address the range of issues that have resulted from racial inequity,” the National Alliance to End Homelessness says on its website.
Overall homelessness went up slightly
The overall number of people experiencing homelessness on a single night increased about 3% from the 2018, the report said.
HUD attributed the overall increase to a 16% increase in homelessness in California, which the report said was offset by decreases in homelessness in other states.
Despite the increases, people in families, youth under 18 and veterans saw a decline in homelessness. Additionally, homelessness overall declined in 29 states and Washington DC, while increasing in 21 states.
Those successes owe to various sectors adopting best practices to end homelessness, including getting people into housing as soon as possible and connecting them with services to address their other needs, said Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Still, there is work to be done, Roman said.
“Homelessness did not go up in 2019 because we don’t know how to solve it: we do,” Roman said in a news release.
“People who are housed are not homeless. It is from the safety and security of a home that services will work best for those who need them, and that people can connect with jobs, schools, churches, family and other community supports that will help them get back on their feet. So, we must do much more to get people back into housing faster.”