Homelessness is a growing problem across the country. New research reveals minorities making up a disproportional number of the homeless. While blacks make up 13 percent of the American population, they account for 40 percent of our nation’s homeless and minorities make up more than 50 percent of the homeless.
The Center for Social Innovation, based in Needham, Mass., does research into the lives of marginalized and vulnerable people, focusing on homelessness, trauma, mental health and substance abuse. In September 2016 the organization launched Supporting Partnerships for Anti-Racist Communities (SPARC). Marc Dones, project director of SPARC, gave a presentation on his group’s research to Tacoma City Council on May 8. People in the study fell into three economic groups – the general population, those living in deep poverty and the homeless.
Communities in the research were Pierce County, Atlanta, Dallas, San Francisco, Syracuse, N.Y. and Columbus, Ohio. In Pierce County, whites are 74.8 percent of the general population and 47.2 percent of the homeless. Blacks are 6.6 percent and 26.3 percent. Hispanics are 9.9 percent and 12.9 percent, with Native Americans at 1.1 percent and 2.9 percent, Asians at 6.1 percent and 1.6 percent and Pacific Islanders at 1.4 percent and 4.3 percent.
The study placed the homeless in three categories: young adults (18-24); single adults and family groups. People of color made up 82.6 percent of the first group, 73.1 of the second and 70.3 of the third. Blacks and Native Americans are the most disproportionally affected in SPARC communities.
Dones said statistics for Hispanics are likely not accurate, as this category has some people who are undocumented and thus may avoid the social service system out of fear of deportation. The real number of homeless Hispanics is significantly higher than statistics reveal, according to Dones.
The research examined five driving factors of homelessness among people of color: economic mobility, housing, the criminal justice system, behavioral health and family stabilization.
The first category has to do with a person’s social network. This is often marked by two weak points: lack of financial capital and lack of emotional support. One pattern that emerged in interviews is that low-income people may move in with relatives, which can add financial strains through higher household costs for food and utilities. When relatives move in together, they share more than a living space. “They also pool their vulnerability,” Dones observed.
Councilmember Chris Beale said he was a long-time renter and was able to purchase a house because his father-in-law helped with the down payment. He mentioned a family friend with four children who moved into his home and the increase in his utility bills.
“People of color have been systematically excluded from economic mobility,” Dones remarked.
Two prominent findings emerged in regard to housing: some options were viewed as too dangerous or unsuitable for habitation and housing associated with service programs were often too expensive to maintain without ongoing subsidies.
People who have been involved in the criminal justice system struggle to find housing, as well as employment, if they have felony convictions.
Behavioral health covers issues such as mental health and substance abuse.
Many respondents cited family stabilization as a reason they became homeless. This can include involvement in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, domestic violence and early pregnancy.
The report offered numerous recommendations. Dones noted that eviction notices giving residents a few days or a week is a contributing factor to homelessness. The council just passed an ordinance requiring landlords to provide 90 days notice for certain types of evictions. Many landlords use a third party to conduct background checks. Dones said checkers need to be regulated. Another recommendation is reforming the criminal justice system to reduce felony-related barriers to housing.